Satellite completes gravity 'map' of Earth

March 4, 2011 at 8:35 PM
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PARIS, March 4 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency says a satellite has completed the ambitious goal of a complete mapping of Earth's gravity with unprecedented precision.

The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer satellite, launched in March 2009, has collected the measurements needed to record the "geoid" reference shape of our planet, an ESA release said Friday.

The geoid is the shape of an imaginary global ocean dictated by gravity in the absence of tides and currents and is a crucial reference for accurately measuring ocean circulation, sea-level change and ice dynamics -- all affected by climate change, researchers say.

"The satellite has recorded the measurements necessary to enable us to produce a high-resolution map of the 'geoid' that is far more accurate and has a much higher spatial resolution than any other dataset of this kind," Volker Liebig, director of ESA's Earth Observation Programs, said.

In the coming weeks the data will be calibrated and processed for scientists to create a unique model of the geoid.

"Once the gravity models are completed, they will be made available to all users, free of charge in line with ESA's data policy," GOCE Mission Manager Rune Floberghagen said.

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