Conversion of time-varying Stokes coefficients into mass anomalies at the Earth’s surface considering the Earth’s oblateness

Pavel Ditmar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


Time-varying Stokes coefficients estimated from GRACE satellite data are routinely converted into mass anomalies at the Earth’s surface with the expression proposed for that purpose by Wahr et al. (J Geophys Res 103(B12):30,205–30,229, 1998). However, the results obtained with it represent mass transport at the spherical surface of 6378 km radius. We show that the accuracy of such conversion may be insufficient, especially if the target area is located in a polar region and the signal-to-noise ratio is high. For instance, the peak values of mean linear trends in 2003–2015 estimated over Greenland and Amundsen Sea embayment of West Antarctica may be underestimated in this way by about 15%. As a solution, we propose an updated expression for the conversion of Stokes coefficients into mass anomalies. This expression is based on the assumptions that: (i) mass transport takes place at the reference ellipsoid and (ii) at each point of interest, the ellipsoidal surface is approximated by the sphere with a radius equal to the current radial distance from the Earth’s center (“locally spherical approximation”). The updated expression is nearly as simple as the traditionally used one but reduces the inaccuracies of the conversion procedure by an order of magnitude. In addition, we remind the reader that the conversion expressions are defined in spherical (geocentric) coordinates. We demonstrate that the difference between mass anomalies computed in spherical and ellipsoidal (geodetic) coordinates may not be negligible, so that a conversion of geodetic colatitudes into geocentric ones should not be omitted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1401-1412
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geodesy
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • GRACE Follow-On
  • Mass transport
  • Spherical harmonics
  • Stokes coefficients
  • Time-varying gravity


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