The Earth's gravity field plays a central role in sea-level change. In the simplest application a precise gravity field will enable oceanographers to capitalize fully on the altimetric datasets collected over the past decade or more by providing a geoid from which absolute sea-level topography can be recovered. However, the concept of a static gravity field is now redundant as we can observe temporal variability in the geoid due to mass redistribution in or on the total Earth system. Temporal variability, associated with interactions between the land, oceans and atmosphere, can be investigated through mass redistributions with, for example, flow of water from the land being balanced by an increase in ocean mass. Furthermore, as ocean transport is an important contributor to the mass redistribution the time varying gravity field can also be used to validate Global Ocean Circulation models.
This paper will review the recent history of static and temporal gravity field recovery, from the 1980s to the present day. In particular, mention will be made of the role of satellite laser ranging and other space tracking techniques, satellite altimetry and in situ gravity which formed the basis of gravity field determination until the last few years. With the launch of Challenging Microsatellite Payload and Gravity and Circulation Experiment (GRACE) our knowledge of the spatial distribution of the Earth's gravity field is taking a leap forward. Furthermore, GRACE is now providing insight into temporal variability through ‘monthly’ gravity field solutions. Prior to this data we relied on satellite tracking, Global Positioning System and geophysical models to give us insight into the temporal variability. We will consider results from these methodologies and compare them to preliminary results from the GRACE mission.
One contribution of 20 to a Theme Issue ‘Sea level science’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society