Rapid rise in Effective Sea-Level in southwest Bangladesh: Its causes and contemporary rates

John Pethick, Julian Orford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence is presented from three estuarine tide gauges located in the
Sundarban area of southwest Bangladesh of relative sea level rise
substantially in excess of the generally accepted rates from altimetry, as
well as previous tide-gauge analyses. It is proposed that the difference
arises from the use of relative mean sea level (RMSL) to characterise the
present and future coastal flood hazard, since RMSL can be misleading in
estuaries in which tidal range is changing. Three tide gauges, one located in
the uninhabited mangrove forested area (Sundarban) of southwest
Bangladesh, the others in the densely populated polder zone north of the
present Sundarban, show rates of increase in RMSL ranging from 2.8 mm
a-1 to 8.8 mm a-1. However, these trends in RMSL disguise the fact that high
water levels in the polder zone have been increasing at an average rate of
15.9 mm a-1 and a maximum of 17.2 mm a-1. In an area experiencing tidal
range amplification, RMSL will always underestimate the rise in high water
levels; consequently, as an alternative to RMSL, the use of trends in high
water maxima or ‘Effective Sea Level Rise’ (ESLR) is adopted as a more
strategic parameter to characterise the flooding hazard potential. The rate
of increase in ESLR is shown to be due to a combination of deltaic
subsidence, including sediment compaction, and eustatic sea level rise, but
principally as a result of increased tidal range in estuary channels recently
constricted by embankments. These increases in ESLR have been partially
offset by decreases in fresh water discharge in those estuaries connected
to the Ganges. The recognition of increases of the effective sea level in the
Bangladesh Sundarban, which are substantially greater than increases in
mean sea level, is of the utmost importance to flood management in this
low-lying and densely populated area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237–245
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Early online date07 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Sundarbans, effective sea-level rise, tidal range amplification, embankments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


Dive into the research topics of 'Rapid rise in Effective Sea-Level in southwest Bangladesh: Its causes and contemporary rates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this