International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 205–226 | Cite as

Spherical harmonic analysis of earth’s conductive heat flow

  • V. M. HamzaEmail author
  • R. R. Cardoso
  • C. F. Ponte Neto
Original Paper


A reappraisal of the international heat flow database has been carried out and the corrected data set was employed in spherical harmonic analysis of the conductive component of global heat flow. Procedures used prior to harmonic analysis include analysis of the heat flow data and determination of representative mean values for a set of discretized area elements of the surface of the earth. Estimated heat flow values were assigned to area elements for which experimental data are not available. However, no corrections were made to account for the hypothetical effects of regional-scale convection heat transfer in areas of oceanic crust. New sets of coefficients for 12° spherical harmonic expansion were calculated on the basis of the revised and homogenized data set. Maps derived on the basis of these coefficients reveal several new features in the global heat flow distribution. The magnitudes of heat flow anomalies of the ocean ridge segments are found to have mean values of less than 150 mW/m2. Also, the mean global heat flow values for the raw and binned data are found to fall in the range of 56–67 mW/m2, down by nearly 25% compared to the previous estimate of 1993, but similar to earlier assessments based on raw data alone. To improve the spatial resolution of the heat flow anomalies, the spherical harmonic expansions have been extended to higher degrees. Maps derived using coefficients for 36° harmonic expansion have allowed identification of new features in regional heat flow fields of several oceanic and continental segments. For example, lateral extensions of heat flow anomalies of active spreading centers have been outlined with better resolution than was possible in earlier studies. Also, the characteristics of heat flow variations in oceanic crust away from ridge systems are found to be typical of conductive cooling of the lithosphere, there being little need to invoke the hypothesis of unconfined hydrothermal circulation on regional scales. Calculations of global conductive heat loss, compatible with the observational data set, are found to fall in the range of 29–34 TW, nearly 25% less than the 1993 estimate, which rely on one-dimensional conductive cooling models.


Global heat flow Spherical harmonic analysis Conduction heat transfer 



The second author of this paper has been recipient of a Masters Degree scholarship granted by Coordenadoria de Aperfeiçoamento de Pesquisa e Ensino Superior (CAPES), during the period of 2004–2006. The authors thank Anne Hofmeister (Washington University) for fruitful exchange of information on assessment of global heat flow. Paul Shen (University of Western Ontario) and Vladimir Shukovski (University of São Paulo) provided helpful comments on the subject matter of spherical harmonic representation. Thanks are also due to Iris Escobar (Observatório Nacional) for institutional support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. M. Hamza
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. R. Cardoso
    • 1
  • C. F. Ponte Neto
    • 1
  1. 1.Observatório NacionalRio de JaneiroBrazil

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