Mapping Earth’s Gravity

By on 1 January, 1970


A new model of the Earth’s gravitational field may help climate change researchers and geophysicists better understand our planet.

The detailed model is based on the European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite data. The satellite, which was launched in 2009, flies at a low altitude of  254.9 km. The low orbit makes the satellite more susceptible to the pull of gravity, which enables it to detect tiny changes in the Earth’s gravitational field. It takes the satellite around two months to scan the entire planet.

The initial map, which is based on two months of data, illustrates the varying strength of gravity. Blue indicates weak areas, green is average and orange is strong. The deviations occur because the Earth isn’t entirely spherical, which means that the gravity isn’t equal across the planet.

The map offers earth science researchers with an array of new information. For example, details on how the Earth’s gravity impacts ocean currents are useful for climate change research.

“The computed global gravity field looks very promising. We can already see that important new information will be obtained for large areas of South America, Africa, Himalaya, South-East Asia and Antarctica. Over continents, and in particular in regions poorly mapped with terrestrial or airborne techniques, we can already conclude that GOCE is changing our understanding of the gravity field,” Reiner Rummel, chairman of the GOCE mission advisory group, said.

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