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Sea surface height data from the Geosat altimeter are compared with island sea level data from 18 gauges in the western and central tropical Pacific during December 1986 to November 1987. Care was taken to ensure that the two data sets are referenced to the same mean surface. This was done by requiring that both data sets have a zero mean sea level over the period April 1985 to April 1986. When the annual means are computed at each station in the later time period, we find that the annual mean sea surface height values have drifted away from the corresponding sea level values by as much as 16 cm. Further, the pattern of differences that develop between the two data sets is not random but is spatially coherent with a strong east-west gradient. These observations illustrate the necessity for sea surface height data to be referred to a well-defined zero point, a datum, in order to reliably monitor interannual changes in the sea surface topography. Until these differences can be eliminated, it will be necessary to use tide gauge data as benchmarks for the altimeter sea surface height data.

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Journal of Geophysical Research Oceans, v. 95, issue C3, p. 2969-2975

©1990. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

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