Space Science Reviews

, Volume 108, Issue 1–2, pp 331–344 | Cite as

Measuring the Distribution of Ocean Mass Using GRACE

  • R.S. Nerem
  • J.M. Wahr
  • E.W. Leuliette


The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), which was successfully launched March 17, 2002, has the potential to create a new paradigm in satellite oceanography with an impact perhaps as large as was observed with the arrival of precision satellite altimetry via TOPEX/Poseidon (T/P) in 1992. The simulations presented here suggest that GRACE will be able to monitor non-secular changes in ocean mass on a global basis with a spatial resolution of ≈500 km and an accuracy of ≈3 mm water equivalent. It should be possible to recover global mean ocean mass variations to an accuracy of ≈1 mm, possibly much better if the atmospheric pressure modeling errors can be reduced. We have not considered the possibly significant errors that may arise due to temporal aliasing and secular gravity variations. Secular signals from glacial isostatic adjustment and the melting of polar ice mass are expected to be quite large, and will complicate the recovery of secular ocean mass variations. Nevertheless, GRACE will provide unprecedented insight into the mass components of sea level change, especially when combined with coincident satellite altimeter measurements. Progress on these issues would provide new insight into the response of sea level to climate change.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • R.S. Nerem
    • 1
  • J.M. Wahr
    • 2
  • E.W. Leuliette
    • 1
  1. 1.Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research and Aerospace Engineering Sciences DepartmentUniversity of ColoradoBoulder, s[Colorado, o[USA (
  2. 2.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the Department of PhysicsUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA (

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