Mean sea level (MSL) (often shortened to sea level) is an average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's oceans from which heights such as elevation may be measured. MSL is a type of vertical datum – a standardised geodetic datum – that is used, for example, as a chart datum in cartography and marine navigation, or, in aviation, as the standard sea level at which atmospheric pressure is measured to calibrate altitude and, consequently, aircraft flight levels. A common and relatively straightforward mean sea-level standard is the midpoint between a mean low and mean high tide at a particular location.
Sea levels can be affected by many factors and are known to have varied greatly over geological time scales. However 20th century and current millennium sea level rise is caused by global warming, and careful measurement of variations in MSL can offer insights into ongoing climate change.
The term above sea level generally refers to above mean sea level (AMSL).
Precise determination of a "mean sea level" is difficult to achieve because of the many factors that affect sea level. Instantaneous sea level varies quite a lot on several scales of time and space. This is because the sea is in constant motion, affected by the tides, wind, atmospheric pressure, local gravitational differences, temperature, salinity and so forth. The easiest way this may be calculated is by selecting a location and calculating the mean sea level at that point and use it as a datum. For example, a period of 19 years of hourly level observations may be averaged and used to determine the mean sea level at some measurement point.
Still-water level or still-water sea level (SWL) is the level of the sea with motions such as wind waves averaged out. Then MSL implies the SWL further averaged over a period of time such that changes due to, e.g., the tides, also have zero mean. Global MSL refers to a spatial average over the entire ocean.
One often measures the values of MSL in respect to the land; hence a change in relative MSL can result from a real change in sea level, or from a change in the height of the land on which the tide gauge operates. In the UK, the Ordnance Datum (the 0 metres height on UK maps) is the mean sea level measured at Newlyn in Cornwall between 1915 and 1921. Prior to 1921, the vertical datum was MSL at the Victoria Dock, Liverpool. Since the times of the Russian Empire, in Russia and other former its parts, now independent states, the sea level is measured from the zero level of Kronstadt Sea-Gauge. In Hong Kong, "mPD" is a surveying term meaning "metres above Principal Datum" and refers to height of 1.230m below the average sea level. In France, the Marégraphe in Marseilles measures continuously the sea level since 1883 and offers the longest collapsed data about the sea level. It is used for a part of continental Europe and main part of Africa as official sea level. As for Spain, the reference to measure heights below or above sea level is placed in Alicante. Elsewhere in Europe vertical elevation references (European Vertical Reference System) are made to the Amsterdam Peil elevation, which dates back to the 1690s.
Satellite altimeters have been making precise measurements of sea level since the launch of TOPEX/Poseidon in 1992. A joint mission of NASA and CNES, TOPEX/Poseidon was followed by Jason-1 in 2001 and the Ocean Surface Topography Mission on the Jason-2 satellite in 2008.
Height above mean sea level (AMSL) is the elevation (on the ground) or altitude (in the air) of an object, relative to the average sea level datum. It is also used in aviation, where some heights are recorded and reported with respect to mean sea level (MSL) (contrast with flight level), and in the atmospheric sciences, and land surveying. An alternative is to base height measurements on an ellipsoid of the entire Earth, which is what systems such as GPS do. In aviation, the ellipsoid known as World Geodetic System 84 is increasingly used to define heights; however, differences exist between this ellipsoid height and mean tidal height. The alternative is to use a geoid-based vertical datum such as NAVD88.
When referring to geographic features such as mountains on a topographic map, variations in elevation are shown by contour lines. The elevation of a mountain denotes the highest point or summit and is typically illustrated as a small circle on a topographic map with the AMSL height shown in metres, feet or both.
In the rare case that a location is below sea level, the elevation AMSL is negative. For one such case, see Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
To extend this definition far from the sea means comparing the local height of the mean sea surface with a "level" reference surface, or geodetic datum, called the geoid. In a state of rest or absence of external forces, the mean sea level would coincide with this geoid surface, being an equipotential surface of the Earth's gravitational field. In reality, due to currents, air pressure variations, temperature and salinity variations, etc., this does not occur, not even as a long-term average. The location-dependent, but persistent in time, separation between mean sea level and the geoid is referred to as (mean) ocean surface topography. It varies globally in a range of ± 2 m.
Several terms are used to describe the changing relationships between sea level and dry land. When the term "relative" is used, it means change relative to a fixed point in the sediment pile. The term "eustatic" refers to global changes in sea level relative to a fixed point, such as the centre of the earth, for example as a result of melting ice-caps. The term "steric" refers to global changes in sea level due to thermal expansion and salinity variations. The term "isostatic" refers to changes in the level of the land relative to a fixed point in the earth, possibly due to thermal buoyancy or tectonic effects; it implies no change in the volume of water in the oceans. The melting of glaciers at the end of ice ages is one example of eustatic sea level rise. The subsidence of land due to the withdrawal of groundwater is an isostatic cause of relative sea level rise. Paleoclimatologists can track sea level by examining the rocks deposited along coasts that are very tectonically stable, like the east coast of North America. Areas like volcanic islands are experiencing relative sea level rise as a result of isostatic cooling of the rock which causes the land to sink.
On other planets that lack a liquid ocean, planetologists can calculate a "mean altitude" by averaging the heights of all points on the surface. This altitude, sometimes referred to as a "sea level" or zero-level elevation, serves equivalently as a reference for the height of planetary features.
Local mean sea level (LMSL) is defined as the height of the sea with respect to a land benchmark, averaged over a period of time (such as a month or a year) long enough that fluctuations caused by waves and tides are smoothed out. One must adjust perceived changes in LMSL to account for vertical movements of the land, which can be of the same order (mm/yr) as sea level changes. Some land movements occur because of isostatic adjustment of the mantle to the melting of ice sheets at the end of the last ice age. The weight of the ice sheet depresses the underlying land, and when the ice melts away the land slowly rebounds. Changes in ground-based ice volume also affect local and regional sea levels by the readjustment of the geoid and true polar wander. Atmospheric pressure, ocean currents and local ocean temperature changes can affect LMSL as well.
Eustatic change (as opposed to local change) results in an alteration to the global sea levels due to changes in either the volume of water in the world's oceans or net changes in the volume of the ocean basins.
There are many factors which can produce short-term (a few minutes to 14 months) changes in sea level. Two major mechanisms are causing sea level to rise. First, shrinking land ice, such as mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets, is releasing water into the oceans. Second, as ocean temperatures rise, the warmer water expands.
|Periodic sea level changes|
|Diurnal and semidiurnal astronomical tides||12–24 h P||0.2–10+ m|
|Rotational variations (Chandler wobble)||14-month P|
|Meteorological and oceanographic fluctuations|
|Atmospheric pressure||Hours to months||−0.7 to 1.3 m|
|Winds (storm surges)||1–5 days||Up to 5 m|
|Evaporation and precipitation (may also follow long-term pattern)||Days to weeks|
|Ocean surface topography (changes in water density and currents)||Days to weeks||Up to 1 m|
|El Niño/southern oscillation||6 mo every 5–10 yr||Up to 0.6 m|
|Seasonal water balance among oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian)|
|Seasonal variations in slope of water surface|
|River runoff/floods||2 months||1 m|
|Seasonal water density changes (temperature and salinity)||6 months||0.2 m|
|Seiches (standing waves)||Minutes to hours||Up to 2 m|
|Tsunamis (generate catastrophic long-period waves)||Hours||Up to 10 m|
|Abrupt change in land level||Minutes||Up to 10 m|
For at least the last 100 years, sea level has been rising at an average rate of about 1.8 mm (0.07 in) per year. Most of this rise can be attributed to the increase in temperature of the sea and the resulting slight thermal expansion of the upper 500 metres (1,640 feet) of sea water. Additional contributions, as much as one-quarter of the total, come from water sources on land, such as melting snow and glaciers and extraction of groundwater for irrigation and other agricultural and human uses.
Pilots can estimate height above sea level with an altimeter set to a defined barometric pressure. Generally, the pressure used to set the altimeter is the barometric pressure that would exist at MSL in the region being flown over. This pressure is referred to as either QNH or "altimeter" and is transmitted to the pilot by radio from air traffic control (ATC) or an automatic terminal information service (ATIS). Since the terrain elevation is also referenced to MSL, the pilot can estimate height above ground by subtracting the terrain altitude from the altimeter reading. Aviation charts are divided into boxes and the maximum terrain altitude from MSL in each box is clearly indicated. Once above the transition altitude, the altimeter is set to the international standard atmosphere (ISA) pressure at MSL which is 1013.25 hPa or 29.92 inHg.
Altitude or height (sometimes known as 'depth') is defined based on the context in which it is used (aviation, geometry, geographical survey, sport, atmospheric pressure, and many more). As a general definition, altitude is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference datum and a point or object. The reference datum also often varies according to the context. Although the term altitude is commonly used to mean the height above sea level of a location, in geography the term elevation is often preferred for this usage.
Vertical distance measurements in the "down" direction are commonly referred to as depth.Climate change
Climate change occurs when changes in Earth's climate system result in new weather patterns that last for at least a few decades, and maybe for millions of years. The climate system is comprised of five interacting parts, the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water), cryosphere (ice and permafrost), biosphere (living things), and lithosphere (earth's crust and upper mantle). The climate system receives nearly all of its energy from the sun, with a relatively tiny amount from earth's interior. The climate system also gives off energy to outer space. The balance of incoming and outgoing energy, and the passage of the energy through the climate system, determines Earth's energy budget. When the incoming energy is greater than the outgoing energy, earth's energy budget is positive and the climate system is warming. If more energy goes out, the energy budget is negative and earth experiences cooling.
As this energy moves through Earth's climate system, it creates Earth's weather and long-term averages of weather are called "climate". Changes in the long term average are called "climate change". Such changes can be the result of "internal variability", when natural processes inherent to the various parts of the climate system alter Earth's energy budget. Examples include cyclical ocean patterns such as the well-known El Niño–Southern Oscillation and less familiar Pacific decadal oscillation and Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. Climate change can also result from "external forcing", when events outside of the climate system's five parts nonetheless produce changes within the system. Examples include changes in solar output and volcanism.
Human activities can also change earth's climate, and are presently driving climate change through global warming. There is no general agreement in scientific, media or policy documents as to the precise term to be used to refer to anthropogenic forced change; either "global warming" or "climate change" may be used.The field of climatology incorporates many disparate fields of research. For ancient periods of climate change, researchers rely on evidence preserved in climate proxies, such as ice cores, ancient tree rings, geologic records of changes in sea level, and glacial geology. Physical evidence of current climate change covers many independent lines of evidence, a few of which are temperature records, the disappearance of ice, and extreme weather events.Effects of global warming
The effects of global warming are the environmental and social changes caused (directly or indirectly) by human emissions of greenhouse gases. There is a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, and that human activities are the primary driver. Many impacts of climate change have already been observed, including glacier retreat, changes in the timing of seasonal events (e.g., earlier flowering of plants), and changes in agricultural productivity.
Anthropogenic forcing has likely contributed to some of the observed changes, including sea level rise, changes in climate extremes, declines in Arctic sea ice extent and glacier retreat.Future effects of climate change will vary depending on climate change policies and social development. The two main policies to address climate change are reducing human greenhouse gas emissions (climate change mitigation) and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Geoengineering is another policy option.Near-term climate change policies could significantly affect long-term climate change impacts. Stringent mitigation policies might be able to limit global warming (in 2100) to around 2 °C or below, relative to pre-industrial levels. Without mitigation, increased energy demand and extensive use of fossil fuels might lead to global warming of around 4 °C. Higher magnitudes of global warming would be more difficult to adapt to, and would increase the risk of negative impacts.This article doesn't cover ocean acidification, which is directly caused by atmospheric carbon dioxide, not global warming.Global Sea Level Observing System
The Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) is an Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission program whose purpose is to measure sea level globally for long-term climate change studies. The program's purpose has changed since the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the program now collects realtime measurements of sea level. The project is currently upgrading the over 290 stations it currently runs, so that they can send realtime data via satellite to newly set up national tsunami centres. They are also fitting the stations with solar panels so they can continue to operate even if the mains power supply is interrupted by severe weather. The Global Sea Level Observing System does not compete with Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis as most GLOSS transducers are located close to land masses while DART's transducers are far out in the ocean.Height
Height is measure of vertical distance, either vertical extent (how "tall" something or someone is) or vertical position (how "high" a point is).
For example, "The height of that building is 50 m" or "The height of an airplane is about 10,000 m".
When the term is used to describe vertical position (of, e.g., an airplane) from sea level, height is more often called altitude.
Furthermore, if the point is attached to the Earth (e.g., a mountain peak), then altitude (height above sea level) is called elevation.In a Cartesian space, height is measured along the vertical axis (y) between a specific point and another that does not have the same y-value. If both points happen to have the same y-value, then their relative height equal to zero.List of U.S. states and territories by elevation
The elevation of the U.S. states, the federal district, and the territories may be described in several ways. These include:
the elevation of their highest point;
the elevation of their lowest point
and the difference between (range of) their highest points and lowest points.The following list is a comparison of elevation absolutes in the United States. Data include interval measures of highest and lowest elevation for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and territories.Which state or territory is "highest" and "lowest" is determined by the definition of "high" and "low". For instance, Alaska could be regarded as the highest state because Denali, at 20,310 feet (6,190.5 m), is the highest point in the United States. However, Colorado, with the highest mean elevation of any state as well as the highest low point, could also be considered a candidate for "highest state". Determining which state is "lowest" is equally problematic. California contains the Badwater Basin in Death Valley, at 279 feet (85 m) below sea level, the lowest point in the United States; while Florida has the lowest high point, and Delaware has the lowest mean elevation. Florida is also the flattest state, with the smallest difference between its highest and lowest points.
The list of highest points in each state is important to the sport of highpointing, where enthusiasts attempt to visit the highest point in each of the contiguous 48 states, or in all 50 states, or in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the territories. As of 2006, 155 people had reached all fifty state highpoints. Roughly 200–300 people attend the Highpointers Club convention each year.All elevations in the table below have been adjusted to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988. The mean elevation for each state is accurate to the nearest 100 ft (30 m).List of elevation extremes by country
The following sortable table lists land surface elevation extremes by country or dependent territory.
Topographic elevation is the vertical distance above the reference geoid, a mathematical model of the Earth's sea level as an equipotential gravitational surface.Malaysia Federal Route 59
Federal Route 59, or Jalan Tapah–Cameron Highlands, is a federal road in Perak and Pahang state, Malaysia. It was a main route to Cameron Highlands, Pahang from Tapah, Perak, before the second route Second East–West Highway was built in 2001.Marine transgression
A marine transgression is a geologic event during which sea level rises relative to the land and the shoreline moves toward higher ground, resulting in flooding. Transgressions can be caused either by the land sinking or the ocean basins filling with water (or decreasing in capacity). Transgressions and regressions may be caused by tectonic events such as orogenies, severe climate change such as ice ages or isostatic adjustments following removal of ice or sediment load.
During the Cretaceous, seafloor spreading created a relatively shallow Atlantic basin at the expense of deeper Pacific basin. This reduced the world's ocean basin capacity and caused a rise in sea level worldwide. As a result of this sea level rise, the oceans transgressed completely across the central portion of North America and created the Western Interior Seaway from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.
The opposite of transgression is regression, in which the sea level falls relative to the land and exposes former sea bottom. During the Pleistocene Ice Ages, so much water was removed from the oceans and stored on land as year-round glaciers that the ocean regressed 120 m, exposing the Bering land bridge between Alaska and Asia.Metres above sea level
"Feet above sea level" redirects here.Metres above mean sea level (MAMSL) or simply metres above sea level (MASL or m a.s.l.) is a standard metric measurement in metres of vertical distance (height, elevation or altitude) of a location in reference to a historic mean sea level taken as a vertical datum. Mean sea levels are affected by climate change and other factors and change over time. For this and other reasons, recorded measurements of elevation above sea level might differ from the actual elevation of a given location over sea level at a given moment.Mountain
A mountain is a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally steeper than a hill. Mountains are formed through tectonic forces or volcanism. These forces can locally raise the surface of the earth. Mountains erode slowly through the action of rivers, weather conditions, and glaciers. A few mountains are isolated summits, but most occur in huge mountain ranges.
High elevations on mountains produce colder climates than at sea level. These colder climates strongly affect the ecosystems of mountains: different elevations have different plants and animals. Because of the less hospitable terrain and climate, mountains tend to be used less for agriculture and more for resource extraction and recreation, such as mountain climbing.
The highest mountain on Earth is Mount Everest in the Himalayas of Asia, whose summit is 8,850 m (29,035 ft) above mean sea level. The highest known mountain on any planet in the Solar System is Olympus Mons on Mars at 21,171 m (69,459 ft).North American Vertical Datum of 1988
The North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) is the vertical datum for orthometric heights established for vertical control surveying in the United States of America based upon the General Adjustment of the North American Datum of 1988.
NAVD 88 was established in 1991 by the minimum-constraint adjustment of geodetic leveling observations in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It held fixed the height of the primary tide gauge benchmark (surveying), referenced to the International Great Lakes Datum of 1985 local mean sea level (MSL) height value, at Rimouski, Quebec, Canada. Additional tidal bench mark elevations were not used due to the demonstrated variations in sea surface topography, i.e., that MSL is not the same equipotential surface at all tidal bench marks.
The definition of NAVD 88 uses the Helmert orthometric height, which calculates the location of the geoid (which approximates MSL) from modeled local gravity. The NAVD 88 model is based on then-available measurements, and remains fixed despite later improved geoid models.
NAVD 88 replaced the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29), previously known as the Sea Level Datum of 1929. The elevation difference between points in a local area will show negligible change from one datum to the other, even though the elevation of both does change. NGVD 29 used a simple model of gravity based on latitude to calculate the geoid and did not take into account other variations. Thus, the elevation difference for points across the country does change between datums.Pounds per square inch
The pound per square inch or, more accurately, pound-force per square inch (symbol: lbf/in2; abbreviation: psi) is a unit of pressure or of stress based on avoirdupois units. It is the pressure resulting from a force of one pound-force applied to an area of one square inch. In SI units, 1 psi is approximately equal to 6895 N/m2.
Pounds per square inch absolute (psia) is used to make it clear that the pressure is relative to a vacuum rather than the ambient atmospheric pressure. Since atmospheric pressure at sea level is around 14.7 psi, this will be added to any pressure reading made in air at sea level. The converse is pounds per square inch gauge (psig), indicating that the pressure is relative to atmospheric pressure. For example, a bicycle tire pumped up to 65 psig in a local atmospheric pressure at sea level (14.7 psia) will have a pressure of 79.7 psia (14.7 psi + 65 psi). When gauge pressure is referenced to something other than ambient atmospheric pressure, then the units would be pounds per square inch differential (psid).Sea-level curve
The sea-level curve is the representation of the changes of the sea level throughout the geological history.
The first such curve is the Vail curve or Exxon curve. The names of the curve refer to the fact that in 1977 a team of Exxon geologists from Esso Production Research headed by Peter Vail published a monograph on global eustatic sea-level changes. Their sea-level curve was based on seismic and biostratigraphic data accumulated during petroleum exploration.The Vail curve (and the monograph itself) was the subject of debate among geologists, because it was based on undisclosed commercially confidential stratigraphic data, and hence not independently verifiable. Because of this, there were later efforts to establish a sea-level curve based on non-commercial data.
In 1987–1988 a revised eustatic sea-level curve for the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras was published, now known as the Haq sea-level curve, in reference to the Pakistani-American Oceanographer Bilal Haq.Sea Level Datum of 1929
The Sea Level Datum of 1929 was the vertical datum established for vertical control surveying in the United States of America by the General Adjustment of 1929. The datum was used to measure elevation (altitude) above, and depression (depth) below, mean sea level (MSL).
Mean sea level was measured at 26 tide gauges: 21 in the United States and 5 in Canada. The datum was defined by the observed heights of mean sea level at the 26 tide gauges and by the set of elevations of all bench marks resulting from the adjustment of observations. The adjustment required a total of 66,315 miles (106,724 km) of leveling with 246 closed circuits and 25 circuits at sea level.
Since the Sea Level Datum of 1929 was a hybrid model, it was not a pure model of mean sea level, the geoid, or any other equipotential surface. Therefore, it was renamed the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) in 1973. NGVD29 was superseded by the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88), based upon an equipotential definition and a readjustment, although many cities and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects with established data continued to use the older datum.Sea level rise
Since at least the start of the 20th century, the average global sea level has been rising. Between 1900 and 2016, the sea level rose by 16–21 cm (6.3–8.3 in). More precise data gathered from satellite radar measurements reveal an accelerating rise of 7.5 cm (3.0 in) from 1993 to 2017, which is a trend of roughly 30 cm (12 in) per century. This acceleration is due mostly to human-caused global warming, which is driving thermal expansion of seawater and the melting of land-based ice sheets and glaciers. Between 1993 and 2018, thermal expansion of the oceans contributed 42% to sea level rise; the melting of temperate glaciers, 21%; Greenland, 15%; and Antarctica, 8%. Climate scientists expect the rate to further accelerate during the 21st century.Projecting future sea level is challenging, due to the complexity of many aspects of the climate system. As climate research into past and present sea levels leads to improved computer models, projections have consistently increased. For example, in 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected a high end estimate of 60 cm (2 ft) through 2099, but their 2014 report raised the high-end estimate to about 90 cm (3 ft). A number of later studies have concluded that a global sea level rise of 200 to 270 cm (6.6 to 8.9 ft) this century is "physically plausible". A conservative estimate of the long-term projections is that each Celsius degree of temperature rise triggers a sea level rise of approximately 2.3 metres (4.2 ft/degree Fahrenheit) over a period of two millennia: an example of climate inertia.The sea level will not rise uniformly everywhere on Earth, and it will even drop in some locations. Local factors include tectonic effects and subsidence of the land, tides, currents and storms. Sea level rises can influence human populations considerably in coastal and island regions. Widespread coastal flooding is expected with several degrees of warming sustained for millennia. Further effects are higher storm-surges and more dangerous tsunamis, displacement of populations, loss and degradation of agricultural land and damage in cities. Natural environments like marine ecosystems are also affected, with fish, birds and plants losing parts of their habitat.Societies can respond to sea level rise in three different ways: to retreat, to accommodate and to protect. Sometimes these adaptation strategies go hand in hand, but at other times choices have to be made among different strategies. Ecosystems that adapt to rising sea levels by moving inland might not always be able to do so, due to natural or man-made barriers.Tide gauge
A tide gauge (also known as mareograph, marigraph, or sea-level recorder) is a device for measuring the change in sea level relative to a vertical datum.