Researchers working under the leadership of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have conducted the first precise and comprehensive measurements of sea level rises in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.

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A new method now makes it possible to determine sea level changes with millimeter accuracy even in coastal areas and in case of sea ice coverage. This is of vital importance for planning protective measures.

For the billions of people who live in coastal areas, rising sea levels driven by climate change can pose an existential threat. “To protect people and infrastructure – for example by building flood protection structures, securing ports or making dikes higher – we need reliable forecasts on sea level trends,” explains Prof. Florian Seitz, the Director of the German Geodetic Research Institute (DGFI-TUM) at TUM. “However, this requires precise data with high spatial resolution. And until now, the required wide-area coverage was not available.”

Especially near coastlines – where so many cities, ports, industry facilities and residential areas are located – the quality of data collected by the radar satellites orbiting the Earth for decades was compromised by high signal-to-noise ratios. The reason: Mountains, bays and offshore islands scatter the signals and distort the reflected echoes. Another problem is sea ice, which covers parts of the oceans in winter, and is impenetrable to radar.

In the Baltic Sea Level project (Baltic SEAL), a team of researchers at TUM worked with international partners to develop algorithms to process the measurement data from radar satellites to permit precise and high-resolution measurements of sea level changes even in coastal areas and beneath sea ice.

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