IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

5.A.4.2 Sea Level from Tide Gauge Observations

Tide gauges are based on a number of different technologies (float, pressure, acoustic, radar), each of which has its advantages in particular applications. The Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) specifies that a gauge must be capable of measuring sea level to centimetre accuracy (or better) in all weather conditions (i.e., in all wave conditions). The most important consideration is the need to maintain the gauge datum relative to the level of the Tide Gauge Bench Mark (TGBM), which provides the land reference level for the sea level measurements. The specifications for GLOSS require that local levelling must be repeated at least annually between the reference mark of the gauge, TGBM and a set of approximately five ancillary marks in the area, in order to maintain the geodetic integrity of the measurements. In practice, this objective is easier to meet if the area around the gauge is hard rock, rather than reclaimed land, for example. The question of whether the TGBM is moving vertically within a global reference frame (for whatever reason) is being addressed by advanced geodetic methods (GPS, Determination d’Orbite et Radiopositionnement Intégrés par Satellite (DORIS), Absolute Gravity). With typical rates of sea and land level change of order of 1 mm yr–1, it is necessary to maintain the accuracy of the overall gauge system at the centimetre level over many decades. This demanding requirement has been met in many countries for many years (see IOC, 2002 for more information). The tide gauge observation system for three periods is shown in Figure 5.A.2, together with the evolution over time of the number of stations in both hemispheres. The distribution of tide gauge stations was particularly sparse in space at the beginning of the 20th century, but rapidly improved in the 1950s through to the current network of GLOSS standard instruments. This distribution of instruments through time means that confidence in the estimates of sea level rise has been improving and this certainty is reflected in the shrinking confidence intervals (Figure 5.13).

Figure 5.A.2

Figure 5.A.2. (a) Number of tide gauge stations in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) and Southern Hemisphere (SH) used to derive the global sea level curve (red and blue curves in Figure 5.13) as a function of time. Lower panels show the spatial distribution of tide gauge stations (denoted by red dots) for the periods (b) 1900 to 1909, (c) 1950 to 1959 and (d) 1980 to 1989.