Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 91, Issue 8, pp 897–914 | Cite as

The unexpected signal in GRACE estimates of \(C_{20}\)

  • Minkang ChengEmail author
  • John Ries
Original Article


For science applications of the gravity recovery and climate experiment (GRACE) monthly solutions, the GRACE estimates of \(C_{20}\) (or \(J_{2}\)) are typically replaced by the value determined from satellite laser ranging (SLR) due to an unexpectedly strong, clearly non-geophysical, variation at a period of \(\sim \)160 days. This signal has sometimes been referred to as a tide-like variation since the period is close to the perturbation period on the GRACE orbits due to the spherical harmonic coefficient pair \(C_{22}/S_{22}\) of S2 ocean tide. Errors in the S2 tide model used in GRACE data processing could produce a significant perturbation to the GRACE orbits, but it cannot contribute to the \(\sim \)160-day signal appearing in \(C_{20}\). Since the dominant contribution to the GRACE estimate of \(C_{20}\) is from the global positioning system tracking data, a time series of 138 monthly solutions up to degree and order 10 (\(10\times 10\)) were derived along with estimates of ocean tide parameters up to degree 6 for eight major tides. The results show that the \(\sim \)160-day signal remains in the \(C_{20}\) time series. Consequently, the anomalous signal in GRACE \(C_{20}\) cannot be attributed to aliasing from the errors in the S2 tide. A preliminary analysis of the cross-track forces acting on GRACE and the cross-track component of the accelerometer data suggests that a temperature-dependent systematic error in the accelerometer data could be a cause. Because a wide variety of science applications relies on the replacement values for \(C_{20}\), it is essential that the SLR estimates are as reliable as possible. An ongoing concern has been the influence of higher degree even zonal terms on the SLR estimates of \(C_{20}\), since only \(C_{20}\) and \(C_{40}\) are currently estimated. To investigate whether a better separation between \(C_{20}\) and the higher-degree terms could be achieved, several combinations of additional SLR satellites were investigated. In addition, a series of monthly gravity field solutions (\(60\times 60\)) were estimated from a combination of GRACE and SLR data. The results indicate that the combination of GRACE and SLR data might benefit the resonant orders in the GRACE-derived gravity fields, but it appears to degrade the recovery of the \(C_{20}\) variations. In fact, the results suggest that the poorer recovery of \(C_{40}\) by GRACE, where the annual variation is significantly underestimated, may be affecting the estimates of \(C_{20}\). Consequently, it appears appropriate to continue using the SLR-based estimates of \(C_{20}\), and possibly also \(C_{40}\), to augment the existing GRACE mission.


SLR \(C_{20}\) Unexpected variation in the GRACE-derived \(C_{20}\) Ocean tide parameters from GRACE data Combination of SLR and GRACE data 



This research was supported in NASA Grants NNX16AF20G, NNX12AK13G and JPL 1479726. The insightful comments from 4 anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated. The authors acknowledge the help of Dr. Steve Poole and Peter Nagel. We thank the International Laser Ranging Service for making the SLR data available for this study and the Texas Advanced Computing Center for providing computational resources.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Space ResearchUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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