The spherical Slepian basis as a means to obtain spectral consistency between mean sea level and the geoid

D. C. Slobbe, Frederik Jozef Simons, R. Klees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The mean dynamic topography (MDT) can be computed as the difference between the mean sea level (MSL) and a gravimetric geoid. This requires that both data sets are spectrally consistent. In practice, it is quite common that the resolution of the geoid data is less than the resolution of the MSL data, hence, the latter need to be low-pass filtered before the MDT is computed. For this purpose conventional low-pass filters are inadequate, failing in coastal regions where they run into the undefined MSL signal on the continents. In this paper, we consider the use of a bandlimited, spatially concentrated Slepian basis to obtain a low-resolution approximation of the MSL signal. We compute Slepian functions for the oceans and parts of the oceans and compare the performance of calculating the MDT via this approach with other methods, in particular the iterative spherical harmonic approach in combination with Gaussian low-pass filtering, and various modifications. Based on the numerical experiments, we conclude that none of these methods provide a low-resolution MSL approximation at the sub-decimetre level. In particular, we show that Slepian functions are not appropriate basis functions for this problem, and a Slepian representation of the low-resolution MSL signal suffers from broadband leakage. We also show that a meaningful definition of a low-resolution MSL over incomplete spherical domains involves orthogonal basis functions with additional properties that Slepian functions do not possess. A low-resolution MSL signal, spectrally consistent with a given geoid model, is obtained by a suitable truncation of the expansions of the MSL signal in terms of these orthogonal basis functions. We compute one of these sets of orthogonal basis functions using the Gram-Schmidt orthogonalization for spherical harmonics. For the oceans, we could construct an orthogonal basis only for resolutions equivalent to a spherical harmonic degree 36. The computation of a basis with a higher resolution fails due to inherent instabilities. Regularization reduces the instabilities but destroys the orthogonality and, therefore, provides unrealistic low-resolution MSL approximations. More research is needed to solve the instability problem, perhaps by finding a different orthogonal basis that avoids it altogether.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-628
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geodesy
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


  • Filtering
  • Geoid
  • Gram-Schmidt
  • Mean dynamic topography
  • Mean sea level
  • Orthogonal basis functions
  • Slepian basis
  • Spectral consistency


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