Comparison of TOPEX sea surface heights and tide gauge sea levels

Edited: 2011-02-21
TitleComparison of TOPEX sea surface heights and tide gauge sea levels
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsMitchum, G. T.
JournalJ. Geophys. Res.
Date Published12/1994
Keywordssea_level, tide_gauge, topex
AbstractTOPEX sea surface height data from the first 300 days of the mission are compared to sea level data from 71 tide gauges. The initial comparison uses sea surface height data processed according to standard procedures as defined in the users handbook. It is found that the median correlations for island and for coastal tide gauges are 0.53 and 0.42, respectively. The analogous RMS differences between the two data sets are 7.9 and 10.4 cm. The comparisons improve significantly when a 60-day harmonic is fit to the differences and removed. This period captures aliased M_{2} and S_{2} tidal energy that is not removed by the tide model. Making this correction and smoothing the sea surface height data over 25-km along-track segments results in median correlations of 0.58 and 0.46 for the islands and coastal stations, and median RMS differences of 5.8 and 7.7 cm, respectively. Removing once per revolution signals from the sea surface heights results in degraded comparisons with the sea levels. It is also found that a number of stations have poor comparisons due to propagating signals that introduce temporal lags between the altimeter and tide gauge time series. A final comparison is made by eliminating stations where this propagation effect is large, discarding two stations that are suspected to have problems with the sea level data, smoothing over 10-day intervals, and restricting attention to island gauges. This results in a set of 552 data pairs that have a correlation of 0.66 and a RMS difference of 4.3 cm. The conclusion is that on timescales longer than about 10 days the RMS sea surface height errors are less than or of the order of several centimeters.