On High-Frequency Topography-Implied Gravity Signals for a Height System Unification Using GOCE-Based Global Geopotential Models
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National height reference systems have conventionally been linked to the local mean sea level, observed at individual tide gauges. Due to variations in the sea surface topography, the reference levels of these systems are inconsistent, causing height datum offsets of up to ±1–2 m. For the unification of height systems, a satellite-based method is presented that utilizes global geopotential models (GGMs) derived from ESA’s satellite mission Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE). In this context, height datum offsets are estimated within a least squares adjustment by comparing the GGM information with measured GNSS/leveling data. While the GNSS/leveling data comprises the full spectral information, GOCE GGMs are restricted to long wavelengths according to the maximum degree of their spherical harmonic representation. To provide accurate height datum offsets, it is indispensable to account for the remaining signal above this maximum degree, known as the omission error of the GGM. Therefore, a combination of the GOCE information with the high-resolution Earth Gravitational Model 2008 (EGM2008) is performed. The main contribution of this paper is to analyze the benefit, when high-frequency topography-implied gravity signals are additionally used to reduce the remaining omission error of EGM2008. In terms of a spectral extension, a new method is proposed that does not rely on an assumed spectral consistency of topographic heights and implied gravity as is the case for the residual terrain modeling (RTM) technique. In the first step of this new approach, gravity forward modeling based on tesseroid mass bodies is performed according to the Rock–Water–Ice (RWI) approach. In a second step, the resulting full spectral RWI-based topographic potential values are reduced by the effect of the topographic gravity field model RWI_TOPO_2015, thus, removing the long to medium wavelengths. By using the latest GOCE GGMs, the impact of topography-implied gravity signals on the estimation of height datum offsets is analyzed in detail for representative GNSS/leveling data sets in Germany, Austria, and Brazil. Besides considerable changes in the estimated offset of up to 3 cm, the conducted analyses show that significant improvements of 30–40% can be achieved in terms of a reduced standard deviation and range of the least squares adjusted residuals.