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mean sea level

The average height of the sea surface, based upon hourly observation of the tide height on the open coast or in adjacent waters that have free access to the sea. In the United States, it is defined as the average height of the sea surface for all stages of the tide over a nineteen year period. Mean sea level, commonly abbreviated as MSL and referred to simply as 'sea level,' serves as the reference surface for all altitudes in upper atmospheric studies. Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)