Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 87, Issue 1, pp 57–67 | Cite as

Global height system unification with GOCE: a simulation study on the indirect bias term in the GBVP approach

  • Christian GerlachEmail author
  • Reiner Rummel
Original Article


One of the main objectives of ESA’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation mission GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state ocean circulation mission, 1999) is to allow global unification of height systems by directly providing potential differences between benchmarks in different height datum zones. In other words, GOCE provides a globally consistent and unbiased geoid. If this information is combined with ellipsoidal (derived from geodetic space techniques) and physical heights (derived from leveling/gravimetry) at the same benchmarks, datum offsets between the datum zones can be determined and all zones unified. The expected accuracy of GOCE is around 2–3 cm up to spherical harmonic degree n max ≈ 200. The omission error above this degree amounts to about 30 cm which cannot be neglected. Therefore, terrestrial residual gravity anomalies are necessary to evaluate the medium and short wavelengths of the geoid, i.e. one has to solve the Geodetic Boundary Value Problem (GBVP). The theory of height unification by the GBVP approach is well developed, see e.g. Colombo (A World Vertical Network. Report 296, Department of Geodetic Science and Surveying, 1980) or Rummel and Teunissen (Bull Geod 62:477–498, 1988). Thereby, it must be considered that terrestrial gravity anomalies referring to different datum zones are biased due to the respective datum offsets. Consequently, the height reference surface of a specific datum zone deviates from the unbiased geoid not only due to its own datum offset (direct bias term) but is also indirectly affected by the integration of biased gravity anomalies. The latter effect is called the indirect bias term and it considerably complicates the adjustment model for global height unification. If no satellite based gravity model is employed, this error amounts to about the same size as the datum offsets, i.e. 1–2 m globally. We show that this value decreases if a satellite-only gravity model is used. Specifically for GOCE with n max ≈ 200, the error can be expected not to exceed the level of 1 cm, allowing the effect to be neglected in practical height unification. The results are supported by recent findings by Gatti et al. (J Geod, 2012).


GOCE GBVP Height unification Indirect bias term 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bavarian Academy of Sciences and HumanitiesMunichGermany
  2. 2.Technische Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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