Observational requirements for long-term monitoring of the global mean sea level and its components over the altimetry era

Anny Cazenave, Ben Hamlington, Martin Horwath, Valentina R. Barletta, Jérôme Benveniste, Don Chambers, Petra Döll, Anna E. Hogg, Jean François Legeais, Mark Merrifield, Benoit Meyssignac, Garry Mitchum, Steve Nerem, Roland Pail, Hindumathi Palanisamy, Frank Paul, Karina von Schuckmann, Philip Thompson

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Present-day global mean sea level rise is caused by ocean thermal expansion, ice mass loss from glaciers and ice sheets, as well as changes in terrestrial water storage. For that reason, sea level is one of the best indicators of climate change as it integrates the response of several components of the climate system to internal and external forcing factors. Monitoring the global mean sea level allows detecting changes (e.g., in trend or acceleration) in one or more components. Besides, assessing closure of the sea level budget allows us to check whether observed sea level change is indeed explained by the sum of changes affecting each component. If not, this would reflect errors in some of the components or missing contributions not accounted for in the budget. Since the launch of TOPEX/Poseidon in 1992, a precise 27-year continuous record of sea level change is available. It has allowed major advances in our understanding of how the Earth is responding to climate change. The last two decades are also marked by the launch of the GRACE satellite gravity mission and the development of the Argo network of profiling floats. GRACE space gravimetry allows the monitoring of mass redistributions inside the Earth system, in particular land ice mass variations as well as changes in terrestrial water storage and in ocean mass, while Argo floats allow monitoring sea water thermal expansion due to the warming of the oceans. Together, satellite altimetry, space gravity, and Argo measurements provide unprecedented insight into the magnitude, spatial variability, and causes of present-day sea level change. With this observational network, we are now in a position to address many outstanding questions that are important to planning for future sea level rise. Here, we detail the network for observing sea level and its components, underscore the importance of these observations, and emphasize the need to maintain current systems, improve their sensors, and supplement the observational network where gaps in our knowledge remain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number582
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Argo float array
  • GRACE (gravity recovery and climate experiment)
  • Satellite altimetry
  • Sea level budget
  • Sea-level change

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