Science and User Needs for Observing Global Mass Transport to Understand Global Change and to Benefit Society

Roland Pail*, Rory Bingham, Carla Braitenberg, Henryk Dobslaw, Annette Eicker, Andreas Güntner, Martin Horwath, Eric Ivins, Laurent Longuevergne, Isabelle Panet, Bert Wouters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


Satellite gravimetry is a unique measurement technique for observing mass transport processes in the Earth system on a global scale, providing essential indicators of both subtle and dramatic global change. Although past and current satellite gravity missions have achieved spectacular science results, due to their limited spatial and temporal resolution as well as limited length of the available time series numerous important questions are still unresolved. Therefore, it is important to move from current demonstration capabilities to sustained observation of the Earth’s gravity field. In an international initiative performed under the umbrella of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, consensus on the science and user needs for a future satellite gravity observing system has been derived by an international panel of scientists representing the main fields of application, i.e., continental hydrology, cryosphere, ocean, atmosphere and solid Earth. In this paper the main results and findings of this initiative are summarized. The required target performance in terms of equivalent water height has been identified as 5 cm for monthly fields and 0.5 cm/year for long-term trends at a spatial resolution of 150 km. The benefits to meet the main scientific and societal objectives are investigated, and the added value is demonstrated for selected case studies covering the main fields of application. The resulting consolidated view on the required performance of a future sustained satellite gravity observing system represents a solid basis for the definition of technological and mission requirements, and is a prerequisite for mission design studies of future mission concepts and constellations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)743-772
Number of pages30
JournalSurveys in Geophysics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2015


  • Climate change
  • Earth system science
  • Mass transport
  • Satellite gravimetry
  • Sustained observation


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