Germany: Scientists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have evaluated the first data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite. Evaluations of the first data from the satellite indicate that current models of the gravitational field in some regions can be fundamentally revised. On that basis, researchers expect to develop a better understanding of many geophysical processes, including for example earthquakes and ocean circulation.
With the aid of the new data, scientists also want to measure ocean circulation globally. Until now, ocean circulation has mainly been derived from mathematical model calculations. They expect that the GOCE data would help in surveying work as well.
In addition, GOCE is expected to provide the basis for the most accurate calculation of the geoid possible. Geoid is the name given to the virtual sea level of a global ocean at rest, which is used, for example, as a height reference for construction projects. The exact reference planes can be used to correctly compare the heights of the Earth’s surface on different continents. Through coordination with measurements from satellite navigation systems (e.g. GPS or GALILEO), it will be possible in the future to make such data available with centimetre accuracy to every user. And last but not least, it also will become simpler to plan the construction of roads, tunnels, and bridges.
In recent months, researchers from the GOCE Gravity Consortium, a group of ten European institutes from seven countries, have processed data from the satellite in such a way that it can be used for model calculations.
The scientists had suspected that there were large inaccuracies in the previous models, calculated on the basis of conventional methods, particularly in the Himalayas, parts of Africa and the Andes The initial evaluations of the GOCE data do indeed confirm this hypothesis.
The scientists expect the mission to enable better understanding of many processes both on and below the surface of the Earth. Because gravitation is directly correlated with the distribution of mass in the Earth’s interior, mapping gravitation in detail can contribute to better understanding of dynamics in Earth’s crust. Understanding better why and where the movement of tectonic plates causes earthquakes is of great significance, particularly for regions on plate boundaries such as the Himalayas and the Andes. The researchers hope that the mission could eventually contribute to development of an early warning system for earthquakes.
The consortium scientists, coordinated at the TU Muenchen, will now use the pre-processed data to develop an initial global model of the gravitational field. It will be presented at the Living Planet Symposium of the ESA at the end of June in Bergen, Norway.