Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 81, Issue 2, pp 121–136 | Cite as

A comparison of the tesseroid, prism and point-mass approaches for mass reductions in gravity field modelling

  • B. HeckEmail author
  • K. Seitz
Original Article


The calculation of topographic (and iso- static) reductions is one of the most time-consuming operations in gravity field modelling. For this calculation, the topographic surface of the Earth is often divided with respect to geographical or map-grid lines, and the topographic heights are averaged over the respective grid elements. The bodies bounded by surfaces of constant (ellipsoidal) heights and geographical grid lines are denoted as tesseroids. Usually these ellipsoidal (or spherical) tesseroids are replaced by “equivalent” vertical rectangular prisms of the same mass. This approximation is motivated by the fact that the volume integrals for the calculation of the potential and its derivatives can be exactly solved for rectangular prisms, but not for the tesseroids. In this paper, an approximate solution of the spherical tesseroid integrals is provided based on series expansions including third-order terms. By choosing the geometrical centre of the tesseroid as the Taylor expansion point, the number of non-vanishing series terms can be greatly reduced. The zero-order term is equivalent to the point-mass formula. Test computations show the high numerical efficiency of the tesseroid method versus the prism approach, both regarding computation time and accuracy. Since the approximation errors due to the truncation of the Taylor series decrease very quickly with increasing distance of the tesseroid from the computation point, only the elements in the direct vicinity of the computation point have to be separately evaluated, e.g. by the prism formulas. The results are also compared with the point-mass formula. Further potential refinements of the tesseroid approach, such as considering ellipsoidal tesseroids, are indicated.


Topographic reduction Newton’s integral Tesseroid Prism method Point-mass modelling 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geodetic InstituteUniversity of KarlsruheKarlsruheGermany

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