Comparison between geodetic and oceanographic approaches to estimate mean dynamic topography for vertical datum unification: evaluation at Australian tide gauges

  • M. S. Filmer
  • C. W. Hughes
  • P. L. Woodworth
  • W. E. Featherstone
  • R. J. Bingham
Original Article


The direct method of vertical datum unification requires estimates of the ocean’s mean dynamic topography (MDT) at tide gauges, which can be sourced from either geodetic or oceanographic approaches. To assess the suitability of different types of MDT for this purpose, we evaluate 13 physics-based numerical ocean models and six MDTs computed from observed geodetic and/or ocean data at 32 tide gauges around the Australian coast. We focus on the viability of numerical ocean models for vertical datum unification, classifying the 13 ocean models used as either independent (do not contain assimilated geodetic data) or non-independent (do contain assimilated geodetic data). We find that the independent and non-independent ocean models deliver similar results. Maximum differences among ocean models and geodetic MDTs reach >150 mm at several Australian tide gauges and are considered anomalous at the 99% confidence level. These differences appear to be of geodetic origin, but without additional independent information, or formal error estimates for each model, some of these errors remain inseparable. Our results imply that some ocean models have standard deviations of differences with other MDTs (using geodetic and/or ocean observations) at Australian tide gauges, and with levelling between some Australian tide gauges, of \({\sim }\pm 50\,\hbox {mm}\). This indicates that they should be considered as an alternative to geodetic MDTs for the direct unification of vertical datums. They can also be used as diagnostics for errors in geodetic MDT in coastal zones, but the inseparability problem remains, where the error cannot be discriminated between the geoid model or altimeter-derived mean sea surface.


Mean dynamic topography Vertical datum unification Mean sea surface Geoid Numerical ocean models 



Chris Hughes and Rory Bingham were funded by ESA via the Project ITT AO/1-8194/15/NL/FF/gp “GOCE\(++\) Dynamic Topography at the coast and tide gauge unification”. Part of this work was funded by UK Natural Environment Research Council National Capability funding. Thanks to Jack McCubbine for discussion on coastal geoid errors. We would like to thank the following agencies and organisations for allowing access to data: Geoscience Australia (GNSS at tide gauges available on request from Nick Brown; PSMSL; CSIRO for CARS2009; AVISO; Technical University of Denmark (DTU) for DTU10MSS; Technical University of Munich for TUM2013; National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) EGM Development Team for EGM2008; Scripps Institution of Oceanography (University of California) for V23.1 marine gravity error grid (data from SIO, NOAA and NGS) and the bathymetry data used in Fig. 1. Figures 123 45678910 and 11 were plotted using the Generic Mapping Tools (Wessel et al. 2013). We appreciate comments from Associate Editor Benoit Meyssignac, and three anonymous reviewers that have helped us to improve this manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Planetary Sciences and The Institute for Geoscience ResearchCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.National Oceanography CentreLiverpoolUK
  4. 4.School of Geographical Sciences, Bristol Glaciology CentreUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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