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Simulation of the time-variable gravity field by means of coupled geophysical models

Author(s): Th. Gruber | J. L. Bamber | M. F. P. Bierkens | H. Dobslaw | M. Murböck | M. Thomas | L. P. H. van Beek | T. van Dam | L. L. A. Vermeersen | P. N. A. M. Visser

Journal: Earth System Science Data
ISSN 1866-3508

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 19;
Date: 2011;
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Time variable gravity fields, reflecting variations of mass distribution in the system Earth is one of the key parameters to understand the changing Earth. Mass variations are caused either by redistribution of mass in, on or above the Earth's surface or by geophysical processes in the Earth's interior. The first set of observations of monthly variations of the Earth gravity field was provided by the US/German GRACE satellite mission beginning in 2002. This mission is still providing valuable information to the science community. However, as GRACE has outlived its expected lifetime, the geoscience community is currently seeking successor missions in order to maintain the long time series of climate change that was begun by GRACE. Several studies on science requirements and technical feasibility have been conducted in the recent years. These studies required a realistic model of the time variable gravity field in order to perform simulation studies on sensitivity of satellites and their instrumentation. This was the primary reason for the European Space Agency (ESA) to initiate a study on ''Monitoring and Modelling individual Sources of Mass Distribution and Transport in the Earth System by Means of Satellites''. The goal of this interdisciplinary study was to create as realistic as possible simulated time variable gravity fields based on coupled geophysical models, which could be used in the simulation processes in a controlled environment. For this purpose global atmosphere, ocean, continental hydrology and ice models were used. The coupling was performed by using consistent forcing throughout the models and by including water flow between the different domains of the Earth system. In addition gravity field changes due to solid Earth processes like continuous glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) and a sudden earthquake with co-seismic and post-seismic signals were modelled. All individual model results were combined and converted to gravity field spherical harmonic series, which is the quantity commonly used to describe the Earth's global gravity field. The result of this study is a twelve-year time-series of 6-hourly time variable gravity field spherical harmonics up to degree and order 180 corresponding to a global spatial resolution of 1 degree in latitude and longitude. In this paper, we outline the input data sets and the process of combining these data sets into a coherent model of temporal gravity field changes. The resulting time series was used in some follow-on studies and is available to anybody interested.

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