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Height above mean sea level is a measure of the vertical distance (height, elevation or altitude) of a location in reference to a historic mean sea level taken as a vertical datum. The combination of unit of measurement and the physical quantity (height) is called "metres above mean sea level" in the metric system, while in United States customary and imperial units it would be called "feet above mean sea level".
Mean sea levels are affected by climate change and other factors and change over time. For this and other reasons, recorded measurements of elevation above sea level at a reference time in history might differ from the actual elevation of a given location over sea level at a given moment.
Metres above sea level is the standard measurement of the elevation or altitude of:
- Geographic locations such as towns, mountains and other landmarks.
- The top of buildings and other structures.
- Flying objects such as airplanes or helicopters.
How it is determined
The elevation or altitude in metres above sea level of a location, object, or point can be determined in a number of ways. The most common include:
- Global Navigation Satellite System (like GPS), which determines a location in reference to multiple satellites.
- Altimeters. They typically measure atmospheric pressure, which decreases as altitude increases.
- Stereoscopy in aerial photography.
- Aerial lidar and satellite laser altimetry.
- Aerial or satellite radar altimetry.
- Surveying, especially levelling.
Accurate measurement of historical mean sea levels is complex. Land mass subsidence (as occurs naturally in some regions) can give the appearance of rising sea levels. Conversely, markings on land masses that are uplifted due to geological processes can suggest a lowering of mean sea level.
Other measurement units
Feet above sea level is the most common analogue for metres above sea level in the US customary measurement system, abbreviated FAMSL.
Often, just the abbreviation MSL is used, e.g. Mount Everest (8848 m MSL), or the reference height is omitted completely, e.g. Mount Everest (8848 m).
Metres above mean sea level is commonly[by whom?] abbreviated mamsl or MAMSL, based on the abbreviation AMSL for "above mean sea level".
Other abbreviations are m.a.s.l. and MASL for "metres above sea level".
- Depth below seafloor
- Height above average terrain
- Height above ground level
- List of places on land with elevations below sea level
- Vertical metre