CryoSat Reveals New Ocean Gravity Maps

Scientists from Scripps Institute of Oceanography (University of California, San Diego), with the aid of data obtained from ESA’s CryoSat mission, have just released their latest gravity maps revealing many undiscovered deep ocean features (see below).

Cryosat’s primary mission is to monitor annual height fluctuations in the Earth’s cryosphere (ice table). However, because it runs continuously, regardless of whether ice is located directly underneath, its scanning footprint will also be utilised to map deviations in sea levels using its radar altimeter as a secondary function—this additional monitoring has provided critical information required for the new ‘global marine gravity models’ and ocean floor maps.

As ESA explains: Although invisible to the eye, the sea surface has ridges and valleys that echo the topography of the ocean floor, but on a greatly reduced scale. The effect of the slight increase in gravity caused by the mass of rock in an undersea mountain is to attract a mound of water several metres high over the seamount. Deep ocean trenches have the reverse effect’

The creation of gravity maps will provide oceanographers/geophysicists new and improved insights into to many unexplored deep ocean features as well as providing invaluable information about plate tectonics and sea floor spreading.

Additionally, the data will also be used to fill crucial gaps in ‘shipboard depth profiles’ for Google’s ongoing ‘ocean maps’ project.

‘As ESA’s Richard Francis, co-author and project manager for the development of CryoSat states: “Although CryoSat’s primary mission is in the cryosphere, we knew as soon as we selected its orbit that it would be invaluable for marine geodesy, and this work proves the point.”’


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Paul Hattle

As a strong advocate for science and learning, I am a passionate supporter of the 'Campaign for Science and Engineering' (CaSE) Fellow of the 'Royal Astronomical Society' (RAS) Associate Member of the 'Institute of Physics' (IOP) & 'The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators' (ISTC)

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