Techniques for determining bias and stability in satellite altimeters

  • Christopher M. Murphy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The case for monitoring large-scale sea level variability is established in the context of the estimation of the extent of anthropogenic climate change. Satellite altimeters are identified as having the potential to monitor this change with high resolution and accuracy. Possible sources of systematic errors and instabilities in these instruments which would be hurdles to the most accurate monitoring of such ocean signals are examined. Techniques for employing tide gauges to combat such inaccuracies are proposed and developed. The tide gauge at Newhaven in Sussex is used in conjunction with the nearby satellite laser ranger and high-resolution ocean models to estimate the absolute bias of the TOPEX, Poseidon, ERS 1 and ERS 2 altimeters. The theory which underlies the augmentation of altimeter measurements with tide gauge data is developed. In order to apply this, the tide gauges of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment are assessed and their suitability for altimeter calibration is determined. A reliable subset of these gauges is derived. A method of intra-altimeter calibration is developed using these tide gauges to remove the effect of variability over long time scales. In this way the long-term instability in the TOPEX range measurement is inferred and the drift arising from the on-board ultra stable oscillator is thus detected. An extension to this work develops a method for inter-altimeter calibration, allowing the systematic differences between unconnected altimeters to be measured. This is applied to the TOPEX and ERS 1 altimeters.
Date of Award1997
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPhilip Moore (Supervisor)


  • sea level change
  • tide gauges
  • altimeter range bias determination
  • altimetric drift

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