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Global sea-level rise and its relation to the terrestrial reference frame

Abstract

We examined the sensitivity of estimates of global sea-level rise obtained from GPS-corrected long term tide gauge records to uncertainties in the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) realization. A useful transfer function was established, linking potential errors in the reference frame datum (origin and scale) to resulting errors in the estimate of global sea level rise. Contrary to scale errors that are propagated by a factor of 100%, the impact of errors in the origin depends on the network geometry. The geometry of the network analyzed here resulted in an error propagation factor of 50% for the Z component of the origin, mainly due to the asymmetry in the distribution of the stations between hemispheres. This factor decreased from 50% to less than 10% as the geometry of the network improved using realistic potential stations that did not yet meet the selection criteria (e.g., record length, data availability). Conversely, we explored new constraints on the reference frame by considering forward calculations involving tide gauge records. A reference frame could be found in which the scatter of the regional sea-level rates was limited. The resulting reference frame drifted by 1.36 ± 0.22  mm/year from the ITRF2000 origin in the Z component and by −0.44 ± 0.22 mm/year from the ITRF2005 origin. A bound on the rate of global sea level rise of 1.2 to 1.6 mm/year was derived for the past century, depending on the origin of the adopted reference frame. The upper bound is slightly lower than previous estimates of 1.8 mm/year discussed in the IPCC fourth report.

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Correspondence to Xavier Collilieux.

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Collilieux, X., Wöppelmann, G. Global sea-level rise and its relation to the terrestrial reference frame. J Geod 85, 9–22 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00190-010-0412-4

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Keywords

  • Sea-level change
  • Vertical land motion
  • Reference Frame
  • ITRF
  • Tide gauges
  • GPS