Articles | Volume 12, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2016

Accuracy of the mean sea level continuous record with future altimetric missions: Jason-3 vs. Sentinel-3a

L. Zawadzki and M. Ablain

Abstract. The current mean sea level (MSL) continuous record, essential to understanding the climate evolution, is computed with the altimetric measurements of the TOPEX/Poseidon mission, succeeded by Jason-1 and later Jason-2. The accurate continuity of the record is ensured by the conservation of the "historical" TOPEX orbit as well as by calibration phases between the successive missions which enable a rigorous computation of their relative biases. In order to extend the current MSL record, Jason-3 will be the natural successor of Jason-2: on the same orbit with a calibration phase. Shortly after Jason-3, another altimetric climate-oriented mission, Sentinel-3a, will be launched on a different orbit. In this paper, simulated altimetric sea level data are used to study the sensitivity of the MSL continuous record to the change of the "historical" orbit for the new Sentinel-3a orbit. By estimating the impact of the absence of calibration phase on the MSL continuous record trend accuracy at the global and regional scales and the impact of the orbit change on the long-term continuity of this MSL record, this study shows that linking Sentinel-3a data instead of Jason-3 to the MSL continuous record would not meet climate user requirements regarding the MSL trend accuracy.

Short summary
The reference mean sea level (MSL) record, essential for understanding climate evolution, is derived from the altimetric measurements of the TOPEX/Poseidon mission, followed by Jason-1 and later Jason-2 on the same orbit. Soon, Jason-3 will be launched on the same historical orbit, followed by Sentinel-3a on a new one. This paper shows linking missions with the same orbit enables meeting climate user requirements regarding the MSL trend while using Sentinel-3a would increase the uncertainty.