Gravity variations much bigger than previously thought

September 4, 2013, Curtin University
This image is an extract of the new high-resolution gravity map over Australia and South-East Asia. The map tells us about the anomalies in gravity, with red indicating strongly positive anomalies and blue negative anomalies. Credit: Christian Hirt

A joint Australian-German research team led by Curtin University's Dr Christian Hirt has created the highest-resolution maps of Earth's gravity field to date—showing gravitational variations up to 40 percent larger than previously assumed.

Using detailed topographic information obtained from the US Space Shuttle, a specialist team including Associate Professor Michael Kuhn, Dr Sten Claessens and Moritz Rexer from Curtin's Western Australian Centre for Geodesy and Professor Roland Pail and Thomas Fecher from Technical University Munich improved the resolution of previous global maps by a factor of 40.

"This is a world-first effort to portray the gravity field for all countries of our planet with unseen detail", Dr Hirt said.

"Our research team calculated free-fall gravity at three billion points—that's one every 200 metres—to create these highest-resolution gravity maps. They show the subtle changes in gravity over most land areas of Earth."

The new gravity maps revealed the variations of free-fall gravity over Earth were much bigger than previously thought.

The Earth's gravitational pull is smallest on the top of the Huascaran mountain in the South American Andes, and largest near the North Pole.

"Only a few years ago, this research would not have been possible," Dr Hirt said.

Watch the GGMplus making-of video and explore gravity over different parts of Earth.
"The creation of the maps would have required about 80 years of office PC computation time but advanced supercomputing provided by the Western Australian iVEC facility helped us to complete the maps within a few months."

High-resolution maps are required in civil engineering, for instance, for building of canals, bridges and tunnels. The mining industry could also benefit.

"The maps can be used by surveyors and other spatial science professionals to precisely measure topographic heights with satellite systems such as the Global Positioning System (GPS)," Dr Hirt said.

The findings of the research team from Curtin and Technical University Munich have recently appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Explore further: Gravity changes along the Moon

More information: Map extracts with continental coverage are available via … /GGMplus/gallery.cfm

Related Stories

Gravity changes along the Moon

April 6, 2012

Using detailed topographic information from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, Curtin’s Western Australian School of Mines (WASM) spatial scientists, Dr. Christian Hirt and Professor Will Featherstone, ...

Australian team maps Moon's hidden craters

June 18, 2013

Australian scientists Tuesday said they had identified a possible 280 additional craters on the Moon, a finding they said could shed light on the history of the Earth's natural satellite.

At 10, GRACE continues defying, and defining, gravity

March 19, 2012

( -- Just as the lead characters in the popular Broadway musical "Wicked" sing about defying gravity, the low-Earth orbiting twin spacecraft of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) continue to ...

GOCE's second mission improving gravity map

November 16, 2012

(—ESA's GOCE gravity satellite has already delivered the most accurate gravity map of Earth, but its orbit is now being lowered in order to obtain even better results.

Recommended for you

Good dog? Bad dog? Their personalities can change

February 22, 2019

When dog-parents spend extra time scratching their dogs' bellies, take their dogs out for long walks and games of fetch, or even when they feel constant frustration over their dogs' naughty chewing habits, they are gradually ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.2 / 5 (17) Sep 04, 2013
Dr. Genius Von Einstein, please explain gravity and why it is the weakest force.
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 04, 2013
"with red indicating strongly positive anomalies and blue negative anomalies"

That should be: "with red indicating strongly positive anomalies and blue indicating negative anomalies"
1.3 / 5 (13) Sep 04, 2013
Wow! That's heavy, man...
1 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2013
I can't help but note that this map doesn't appear to be derived from any actual measurements of gravity. It is instead a model of what gravity would look like if the Earth's surface consisted of a substance of uniform density. But it is well known that there are subsurface features buried beneath relatively smooth Earth surfaces and entirely invisible from above that nonetheless produce distinctly different gravity anomalies from the surrounding area. It is my impression that the errors introduced by ignoring density differences would largely outweigh the benefit of achieving a resolution of 200 m using solely topography data.
Sep 07, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1.3 / 5 (15) Sep 07, 2013
Hmmm...we all know sea level is affected by gravity, but now we find out that we don't know as much about gravity as we thought.

Could it be we don't know as much about changes in sea level as we thought??

Could it be AGW is a total farce??
2 / 5 (8) Sep 07, 2013
Gravity is not variable, Newton and Einstein are safe. All this means is the resolving power of our instrumentation is meeting very fine density gradients found in any fluid inhomogeneous thing (the Earth) that is dynamical. Gravity is not varying, the mass density varies.

I could be wrong but, that's my take on it,,,, this doesn't seem like new science to me as much as it seems better and more precise measurements.
1 / 5 (9) Sep 08, 2013
"This is a world-first effort to portray the gravity field for all countries of our planet with unseen detail", Dr Hirt said.

Wow these mostly Australian 'researchers' are disgusting hypocrites. The European Space Agency has just spend enormous amounts of time and money to build a space satellite to map the actual gravity. They made world headlines with their super detailed earth gravity map. And now these clowns use data from mostly Nasa topography for almost free AND falsly pretend they make a gravity map.

Their map is flawed exactly because it uses topografical data. Topography does not determine gravity as it's about types of rock and their density all the way down. That's why GOCE is an actual gravity mapper as it builds an actual gravity map by flying over all areas and making ulta precize measurements of the actual pull at each location over earth. This is like somone guessing a distance compared to somone actually measuring it.

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.