EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Towards an international standard for the precise determination of physical heights

Laura Sanchez1, Jianliang Huang2, Riccardo Barzaghi3, and Georgios S. Vergos4
Laura Sanchez et al.
  • 1Technical University of Munich, Deutsches Geodätisches Forschungsinstitut (DGFI-TUM), Munich, Germany (
  • 2Canadian Geodetic Survey, Surveyor General Branch, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, Canada
  • 3Politecnico di Milano, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Milano, Italy
  • 4Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Department of Geodesy and Surveying, Laboratory of Gravity Field Research and Applications, Thessaloniki, Greece

Measuring, studying, and understanding global change effects demand unified geodetic reference frames with (i) an order of accuracy higher than the magnitude of the effects to be observed, (ii) consistency and reliability worldwide, and (iii) long-term stability. The development of the International Terrestrial Reference System (ITRS) and its realisation, the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF), enable the precise description of the Earth’s geometry by means of geocentric Cartesian coordinates with an accuracy at the cm-level and with global consistency. An equivalent high-precise global physical reference system that provides the basis for the consistent determination of gravity field-related coordinates worldwide, in particular geopotential differences or physical heights is missing. Without a conventional global height system, most countries are using local height systems, which have been implemented individually, applying in general non-standardised procedures. It is proven that their combination in a global frame presents discrepancies at the metre level. Therefore, a core objective of the international geodetic community is to establish an international standard for the precise determination of physical heights. This standard is known as the International Height Reference System (IHRS). Its realisation has been a main topic of research during the last years. Recent achievements concentrate on (1) compiling detailed standards, conventions, and guidelines for the IHRS realisation, (2) evaluating computational approaches for the consistent determination of potential differences, and (3) designing an operational infrastructure that ensures the maintenance and long-term stability of the IHRS and its realization. This contribution summarises advances and current challenges in the establishment, realization and sustainability of the IHRS.

How to cite: Sanchez, L., Huang, J., Barzaghi, R., and Vergos, G. S.: Towards an international standard for the precise determination of physical heights, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-2523,, 2022.