Consistent estimates of sea level and vertical land motion based on satellite radar altimetry

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Satellite radar altimetry is often considered to be the most succesful spaceborne remote sensing technique ever. Satellite radar altimeters were designed for static geodetic and ocean dynamics applications. The goal of the geodetic mission phases, which have a dense ground-track spacing, is primarily to acquire information about the marine gravity field. This enables the estimation of mean dynamic topography (geographical sea surface height patterns due to ocean currents) and deep-ocean bathymetry. The primary goal of the oceanographic mission phases is to gain information about time-varying currents and ocean dynamics. TOPEX/Poseidon is the first altimetry mission to reveal sea surface height variations related to ocean dynamics as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). During the mission it became clear that secular changes in sea level could also be monitored. Already in 1995, Nerem (1995) computed a Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) time series from the TOPEX/Poseidon data. Currently, the GMSL record spans 26 years, in which TOPEX/Poseidon time series is extended with the Jason-1&2&3 observations. The estimated secular trend of GMSL over the altimetry era is approximately 3 mm yr−1. The succes of the TOPEX/Poseidon mission spawned the Argo project with the deployment of the first floats in the year 2000. One argued that Argo would support the future Jason missions in separating changes into the two components (density and mass) of sea level. The Argo project aims to estimate temperature and salinity over a depth of 2000 meter using floats, which enable the estimation of density or steric sea level changes. By subtracting the steric signal from the absolute sea level measured by Jason (steric-corrected altimetry), the second component of sea level changes, mass, is estimated. The launch of the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in 2002 made it possible to independently validate oceanic mass variations. If the sum of the mass and steric components equals total sea level within the uncertainties, the sea level is said to be closed. Besides these two oceanic components, ocean bottom deformation or Vertical Land Motion (VLM) also affects the sea level observed by altimeters. Over the open ocean VLM signals are generally small after a correction for Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA), but near large mass variations they might become significant. Additionally, tide-gauge records are affected by VLM changes, because they are connected to land. Therefore they measure sea level relative to the sea floor, while the satellite altimeters observe the absolute variations. To bring tide gauges in the same reference frame as the altimeters, corrections for VLM have to be applied, which is usually done with nearby Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data...
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Klees, R., Supervisor
  • Riva, R.E.M., Advisor
Award date12 Nov 2018
Print ISBNs978-94-6186-986-9
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • sea-level change
  • sea-level budget
  • satellite radar altimetry
  • vertical land motion


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