Published In

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

Document Type


Publication Date



Sea level -- United States, Tides -- Measurement, Tides -- Massachusetts -- Boston Harbor


Using newly-discovered archival measurements, we construct an instrumental record of water levels and storm tides in Boston (MA) since 1825. After ascertaining the 19th century datum and correcting for a 0–0.03 m bias in the modern tide-gauge record, we show that local, decadally-averaged relative sea level (RSL) rose by 0.2860.05 m since 1826, with an acceleration of 0.02360.009 mm/yr2. Tide range decreased by 5.5% between 1830 and 1910, due in large part to dredging and filling of Boston Harbor, and trended slightly upward thereafter. An evaluation of storm events since 1825 suggests that trends in flood risk are driven by RSL rise, with a small contribution by tidal trends. Sea-level rise also interacts with the 18.6 year nodal cycle in tide amplitudes to produce decadal fluctuations in hazard. Conditional sampling of the 1825–2018 record shows that storm tides with a 0.01–0.5 annual probability (100 and 2 year events) are 0.1–0.2 m larger during periods with above-average tidal amplitudes. Similarly, the once-in-25 year event during elevated tidal forcing becomes a once-in-100 year event during periods of reduced tides. A plurality of historic flood events—including floods in 1851, 1978, and 2018—occurred near the peak of the tidal nodal cycle. Projections to the year 2100 suggest that decadal fluctuations in tide characteristics will interact with relative sea-level rise to produce a fluctuating hazard over time, with periods of relative stationarity (e.g., the 2020s) bracketed by relatively abrupt increases in flood hazard (the early 2030s).


Copyright (2018) AGU

AGU allows authors to deposit their journal articles if the version is the final published citable version of record, the AGU copyright statement is clearly visible on the posting, and the posting is made 6 months after official publication by the AGU.



Persistent Identifier