Calculating the ocean's mean dynamic topography from a mean sea surface and a geoid

Rory J. Bingham*, Keith Haines, C. W. Hughes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


In principle the global mean geostrophic surface circulation of the ocean can be diagnosed by subtracting a geoid from a mean sea surface (MSS). However, because the resulting mean dynamic topography (MDT) is approximately two orders of magnitude smaller than either of the constituent surfaces, and because the geoid is most naturally expressed as a spectral model while the MSS is a gridded product, in practice complications arise. Two algorithms for combining MSS and satellite-derived geoid data to determine the ocean's mean dynamic topography (MDT) are considered in this paper: a pointwise approach, whereby the gridded geoid height field is subtracted from the gridded MSS; and a spectral approach, whereby the spherical harmonic coefficients of the geoid are subtracted from an equivalent set of coefficients representing the MSS, from which the gridded MDT is then obtained. The essential difference is that with the latter approach the MSS is truncated, a form of filtering, just as with the geoid. This ensures that errors of omission resulting from the truncation of the geoid, which are small in comparison to the geoid but large in comparison to the MDT, are matched, and therefore negated, by similar errors of omission in the MSS. The MDTs produced by both methods require additional filtering. However, the spectral MDT requires less filtering to remove noise, and therefore it retains more oceanographic information than its pointwise equivalent. The spectral method also results in a more realistic MDT at coastlines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1808-1822
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2008


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