High Performance Clocks and Gravity Field Determination

J Muller, Dominic Dirkx, S.M. Kopeikin, G. Lion, I. I. Panet, G. Petit, Pieter Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Time measured by an ideal clock crucially depends on the gravitational potential and velocity of the clock according to general relativity. Technological advances in manufacturing high-precision atomic clocks have rapidly improved their accuracy and stability over the last decade that approached the level of 10−18. Based on a fully relativistic description of the background gravitational physics, we discuss the impact of those highly-precise clocks on the realization of reference frames and time scales used in geodesy. We discuss the current definitions of basic geodetic concepts and come to the conclusion that the advances in clocks and other metrological technologies will soon require the re-definition of time scales or, at least, clarification to ensure their continuity and consistent use in practice. The relative frequency shift between two clocks is directly related to the difference in the values of the gravity potential at the points of clock's localization. According to general relativity the relative accuracy of clocks in 10−18 is equivalent to measuring the gravitational red shift effect between two clocks with the height difference amounting to 1 cm. We show how clock measurements can provide geopotential numbers for the realization of gravity-field-related height systems and can resolve discrepancies in classically-determined height systems as well as between national height systems. Another application of clocks is the direct use of observed potential differences for the improved recovery of regional gravity field solutions. Finally, clock measurements for space-borne gravimetry are analyzed along with closely-related deficiencies of this method like an extra-ordinary knowledge of the spacecraft velocity, etc. For all these applications besides the near-future prospects, we also discuss the challenges that are related to using those novel clock data in geodesy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2018


  • General relativity
  • Relativistic geodesy
  • Reference frames
  • Time scales
  • High-precision time measurements
  • Height systems
  • Gravity field recovery


Dive into the research topics of 'High Performance Clocks and Gravity Field Determination'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this