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Sea level
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Sea level


Mean sea level (MSL) is the average height of the sea, with reference to a suitable reference surface. Defining the reference level [1], however, involves complex measurement, and accurately determining MSL can prove difficult.

To an operator of a tide gauge, MSL means the 'still water level' - the level of the sea with motions such as wind waves averaged out - averaged over a period of time such that changes in sea level - e.g. due to the tides - also get averaged out. One measures the values of MSL respect to the land. Hence a change in 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.

To extend this definition far from land means comparing the local height of the mean sea surface with a 'level' reference surface, or 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 gravity 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 (stationary) sea surface topography. If varies globally in a range of m.

Traditionally, one had to process sea-level measurements to take into account the effect of the 19-year Metonic cycle and the 223-month Saros cycle on the tides. Mean sea level does not remain constant over the surface of the entire earth. Mean sea level at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal stands 20cm higher than at the Atlantic end.

For considerations of sea level change, in particular rise associated with possible global warming, see sea level rise.

Despite the difficulties, aviators using instrument flight rules must have accurate and reliable measurements of their altitudes above sea level, and the altitude of the airports where they intend to land. That problem can compound when landing on an aircraft carrier in a gravitational anomaly.

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", serves equivalently as a reference for the height of planetary features.

Table of contents
1 UK
2 See also
3 External links


In the UK, mean sea level is defined at Newquay in the county of Cornwall.

See also

External links