Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 88, Issue 4, pp 351–361 | Cite as

Effect of the processing methodology on satellite altimetry-based global mean sea level rise over the Jason-1 operating period

  • Olivier HenryEmail author
  • Michael Ablain
  • Benoit Meyssignac
  • Anny Cazenave
  • Dallas Masters
  • Steve Nerem
  • Gilles Garric
Original Article


Determining how the global mean sea level (GMSL) evolves with time is of primary importance to understand one of the main consequences of global warming and its potential impact on populations living near coasts or in low-lying islands. Five groups are routinely providing satellite altimetry-based estimates of the GMSL over the altimetry era (since late 1992). Because each group developed its own approach to compute the GMSL time series, this leads to some differences in the GMSL interannual variability and linear trend. While over the whole high-precision altimetry time span (1993–2012), good agreement is noticed for the computed GMSL linear trend (of \(3.1\pm 0.4\) mm/year), on shorter time spans (e.g., \({<}10~\hbox {years}\)), trend differences are significantly larger than the 0.4 mm/year uncertainty. Here we investigate the sources of the trend differences, focusing on the averaging methods used to generate the GMSL. For that purpose, we consider outputs from two different groups: the Colorado University (CU) and Archiving, Validation and Interpretation of Satellite Oceanographic Data (AVISO) because associated processing of each group is largely representative of all other groups. For this investigation, we use the high-resolution MERCATOR ocean circulation model with data assimilation (version Glorys2-v1) and compute synthetic sea surface height (SSH) data by interpolating the model grids at the time and location of “true” along-track satellite altimetry measurements, focusing on the Jason-1 operating period (i.e., 2002–2009). These synthetic SSH data are then treated as “real” altimetry measurements, allowing us to test the different averaging methods used by the two processing groups for computing the GMSL: (1) averaging along-track altimetry data (as done by CU) or (2) gridding the along-track data into \(2^{\circ }\times 2^{\circ }\) meshes and then geographical averaging of the gridded data (as done by AVISO). We also investigate the effect of considering or not SSH data at shallow depths \(({<}120~\hbox {m})\) as well as the editing procedure. We find that the main difference comes from the averaging method with significant differences depending on latitude. In the tropics, the \(2^{\circ }\times 2^{\circ }\) gridding method used by AVISO overestimates by 11 % the GMSL trend. At high latitudes (above \(60^{\circ }\hbox {N}/\hbox {S}\)), both methods underestimate the GMSL trend. Our calculation shows that the CU method (along-track averaging) and AVISO gridding process underestimate the trend in high latitudes of the northern hemisphere by 0.9 and 1.2 mm/year, respectively. While we were able to attribute the AVISO trend overestimation in the tropics to grid cells with too few data, the cause of underestimation at high latitudes remains unclear and needs further investigation.


Satellite altimetry Sea level Trend  Data comparison Geophysical corrections 



This study is a contribution to the ESA Climate Change Initiative “Sea Level” project. It is partly supported by the CNES/TOSCA program.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivier Henry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael Ablain
    • 2
  • Benoit Meyssignac
    • 1
  • Anny Cazenave
    • 1
  • Dallas Masters
    • 3
  • Steve Nerem
    • 3
  • Gilles Garric
    • 4
  1. 1.LEGOS/CNES, Observatoire Midi PyrénéesToulouseFrance
  2. 2.CLSRamonville Saint-AgneFrance
  3. 3.CCARColorado UniversityBoulderUSA
  4. 4.MERCATOR-OceanRamonville Saint-AgneFrance

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