Satellite measures gravity's effect on climate change

March 9, 2011
An artist's impression of the Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite. After nearly two years in space, the European satellite GOCE has collected the raw data needed to map variations in Earth's gravity field, the European Space Agency has said.

After nearly two years in space, the European satellite GOCE has collected the raw data needed to map variations in Earth's gravity field, the European Space Agency has said.

The data will help scientists better understand the impact of on sea levels, ice sheets, and ocean circulation systems.

ESA launched the five metres long (16 feet), 1,050 kilogrammes (2,310 pounds) satellite in 2009 as part of its "Earth Explorer" programme.

From its relatively low orbital position 260 kilometres (160 miles) above the planet, GOCE can, with unprecedented accuracy, detect minute changes in Earth's .

Gravity's pull is not felt equally across the planet. Rather, Earth's slightly flattened shape and the irregular distribution of heavy rock lead to inconsistent gravitational forces across different regions.

Scientists at ESA will use the new data to generate a planetary "geoid," a hypothetical model of how gravity would shape a global ocean in the absence of tides and currents.

The geoid will allow for a far more accurate measure of ocean circulation, massive ice sheet in Greenland and Antarctica and changes in , all of which are influenced by global warming.

An improved knowledge of gravitational discrepancies will also contribute to a clearer view of Earth's interior, as well as the physics behind volcanoes and earthquakes.

GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Explorer) is slated to continue its mission until the end of 2012.

Explore further: GOCE Earth explorer satellite to look at the Earth's surface and core

Related Stories

Launch of European gravity probe delayed

March 16, 2009

The launch of a pioneering European satellite designed to map Earth's gravity field was delayed due to technical problems and will take place Tuesday, Russia's Khrunichev Space Centre said.

GOCE delivering data for best gravity map ever (w/ Video)

September 30, 2009

( -- Following the launch and in-orbit testing of the most sophisticated gravity mission ever built, ESA’s GOCE satellite is now in ‘measurement mode’, mapping tiny variations in Earth’s gravity in unprecedented ...

GOCE giving new insights into Earth's gravity (w/ Video)

June 29, 2010

( -- The first global gravity model based on GOCE satellite data has been presented at ESA's Living Planet Symposium. ESA launched GOCE in March 2009 to map Earth's gravity with unprecedented accuracy and resolution.

European science satellite hit by glitch

August 23, 2010

A satellite designed to map Earth's gravitational field has been hit by a software glitch and is unable to send its science data back home, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Monday.

Recommended for you

Can Paris pledges avert severe climate change?

November 26, 2015

More than 190 countries are meeting in Paris next week to create a durable framework for addressing climate change and to implement a process to reduce greenhouse gases over time. A key part of this agreement would be the ...

Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images

November 26, 2015

Frank Paul, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, has created animations from satellite images of the Karakoram mountain range in Asia to show how its glaciers flow and change. The images of four different ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.