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New gravity dataset will help unveil the Antarctic continent

23 January 2016

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A unique dataset of gravity anomalies has been released for Antarctica, representing a significant step forward in the investigation of the largest ice-covered continent on Earth. More than 50 scientists from research institutions in eight countries, among others Germany, UK, USA and Russia have been actively collaborating since 2003 to make this gravity data compilation possible.

The research, co-authored by Mirko Scheinert of Technische Universit├Ąt Dresden, Germany and Dr Fausto Ferraccioli from British Antarctic Survey, is published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Gravity anomalies are based on highly accurate measurements of the Earth's gravity field and are used in geodesy and geophysics to determine, for example, height measurements with respect to mean global sea level (geoid) and as a tool to probe deep into the Earth's interior. Detailed gravity data measurements have been collected over most of the globe augmented by recent satellite-derived missions. However, performing terrestrial gravity measurements has proven significantly more challenging in Antarctica due its extension, remoteness and thick ice sheet cover.

Over the last decade, in particular, the international research community has deployed aircrafts equipped with gravity meters to collect a huge amount of new gravity data over Antarctica. The latest gravity anomaly dataset is based on 13 million data points and covers an area of 10 million km2, corresponding to 73% of the Antarctic continent (equal to the entire area of Europe).

Using these Antarctic gravity datasets new global models of Earth's gravity field with a resolution of up to 10 km can be constructed said Mirko Scheinert. Before we put together all the available terrestrial Antarctic gravity data we had to rely mainly on lower resolution (ca 100 km) satellite observations to construct such models.

Source: British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Image credit: ESA/HPF/DLR - GOCE geoid

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