The geoid is that equipotential surface which would coincide exactly with the mean ocean surface of the Earth, if the oceans were in equilibrium, at rest, and extended through the continents (such as with very narrow canals). According to C.F. Gauss, who first described it, it is the "mathematical figure of the Earth," a smooth but highly irregular surface that corresponds not to the actual surface of the Earth's crust, but to a surface which can only be known through extensive gravitational measurements and calculations. Despite being an important concept for almost two hundred years in the history of geodesy and geophysics, it has only been defined to high precision in recent decades, for instance by works of P. Vaníček and others. It is often described as the true physical figure of the Earth, in contrast to the idealized geometrical figure of a reference ellipsoid.


2. Ellipsoid
3. Local plumb
4. Continent
5. Geoid
The geoid surface is irregular, unlike the reference ellipsoids often used to approximate the shape of the physical Earth, but considerably smoother than Earth's physical surface. While the latter has excursions of +8,000 m (Mount Everest) and −11,000 m (Mariana Trench), the total variation in the geoid is less than 200 m (-106 to +85 m) [ visited 2007-10-11] compared to a perfect mathematical ellipsoid.

Sea level, if undisturbed by currents and weather, would assume a surface equal to the geoid. If the continental land masses were criss-crossed by a series of tunnels or narrow canals, the sea level in these canals would also coincide with the geoid. In reality the geoid does not have a physical meaning under the continents, but geodesists are able to derive the heights of continental points above this imaginary, yet physically defined, surface by a technique called spirit leveling.

Being an equipotential surface, the geoid is by definition a surface to which the force of gravity is everywhere perpendicular. This means that when travelling by ship, one does not notice the undulations of the geoid; the local vertical is always perpendicular to the geoid and the local horizon tangential component to it. Likewise, spirit levels will always be parallel to the geoid.

Note that a GPS receiver on a ship may, during the course of a long voyage, indicate height variations, even though the ship will always be at sea level (tides not considered). This is because GPS satellites, orbiting about the center of gravity of the Earth, can only measure heights relative to a geocentric reference ellipsoid. To obtain one's geoidal height, a raw GPS reading must be corrected. Conversely, height determined by spirit leveling from a tidal measurement station, as in traditional land surveying, will always be geoidal height.Some GPS receivers have a grid implemented inside where they can obtain the WGS84 geoid height over the WGS ellipsoid from the current position. Then they are able to correct the height above WGS ellipsoid to the height above WGS84 geoid. In that case when the height is not zero on a ship it is because of the tides.

implified Example

The gravity of field of the earth is neither perfect nor uniform. A flattened ellipsoid is typically used as the idealized earth, but let's simplify that and consider the idealized earth to be a perfect sphere instead. Now, even if the earth were perfectly spherical, the strength of gravity would not be the same everywhere, because the density (and therefore the mass) varies throughout our blue marble. This is due to magma distributions, mountain ranges, deep sea trenches and so on.

So if that perfect sphere were then covered in water, the water would not be the same height everywhere. Instead, the water level would be higher or lower depending on the particular strength of gravity in that location.

pherical harmonics representation

Spherical harmonics are often used to approximate the shape of the geoid. The current best such set of spherical harmonic coefficients is EGM96 (Earth Gravity Model 1996) [NIMA Technical Report TR8350.2, "Department of Defense World Geodetic System 1984, Its Definition and Relationships With Local Geodetic Systems", Third Edition, 4 July 1997. [Note that confusingly, despite the title, versions after 1991 actually define EGM96, rather than the older WGS84 standard, and also that, despite the date on the cover page, this report was actually updated last in June 23 2004. Available electronically at:] ] , determined in an international collaborative project led by NIMA. The mathematical description of the non-rotating part of the potential function in this model is

:V=frac{GM}{r}left(1+{sum_{n=2}^{n_{max}left(frac{a}{r} ight)^n{sum_{m=0}^n}overline{P}_{nm}(sinphi)left [overline{C}_{nm}cos mlambda+overline{S}_{nm}sin mlambda ight] ight),

where phi and lambda are "geocentric" (spherical) latitude and longitude respectively, overline{P}_{nm} are the fully normalized Legendre functions of degree n and order m , and overline{C}_{nm} and overline{S}_{nm} are the coefficients of the model. Note that the above equation describes the Earth's gravitational potential V , not the geoid itself, at location phi,;lambda,;r, the co-ordinate r being the "geocentric radius", i.e, distance from the Earth's centre. The geoid is a particular [ [ There is no such thing as "The" EGM96 geoid] ] equipotential surface, and is somewhat involved to compute. The gradient of this potential also provides a model of the gravitational acceleration. EGM96 contains a full set of coefficients to degree and order 360, describing details in the global geoid as small as 55 km (or 110 km, depending on your definition of resolution). One can show there are

:sum_{k=2}^n 2k+1 = n(n+1) + n - 3 = 130,317

different coefficients (counting both overline{C}_{nm} and overline{S}_{nm}, and using the EGM96 value of n=n_{max}=360). For many applications the complete series is unnecessarily complex and is truncated after a few (perhaps several dozen) terms.

New even higher resolution models are currently under development. For example, many of the authors of EGM96 are working on an updated model [Pavlis, N.K., S.A. Holmes. S. Kenyon, D. Schmit, R. Trimmer, "Gravitational potential expansion to degree 2160", "IAG International Symposium, gravity, geoid and Space Mission GGSM2004", Porto, Portugal, 2004.] that should incorporate much of the new satellite gravity data (see, e.g., GRACE), and should support up to degree and order 2160 (1/6 of a degree, requiring over 4 million coefficients).

Precise geoid

The 1990s saw important discoveries in theory of geoid computation. The Precise Geoid Solution [ [ UNB Precise Geoid Determination Package] , page accessed 02 October 2007] by Vaníček and co-workers improved on the Stokesian approach to geoid computation. Their solution enables millimetre-to-centimetre accuracy in geoid computation, an order-of-magnitude improvement from previous classical solutions [ Vaníček, P., Kleusberg, A. The Canadian geoid-Stokesian approach, Pages 86-98, Manuscripta Geodaetica, Volume 12, Number 2 (1987)] [ [ Vaníček P., Martinec Z. Compilation of a precise regional geoid] (pdf), Pages 119-128, Manuscripta Geodaetica, Volume 19 (1994)] [ [ Vaníček et al. Compilation of a precise regional geoid] (pdf), pp.45, Report for Geodetic Survey Division - DSS Contract: #23244-1-4405/01-SS, Ottawa (1995)] .


External links

* [ Main NGA (was NIMA) page on Earth gravity models]
* [ EGM96 NASA GSFC Earth gravity model]
* [ Earth Gravitational Model 2008 (EGM2008, Released in July 2008)]
* [ NOAA Geoid webpage]
* [ Kiamehr's Geoid Home Page]
* [ Geoid tutorial from Li and Gotze] (964KB pdf file)
* [ Geoid tutorial at GRACE website]
* [ Geoid Modelling in Egypt]
* [ Precise Geoid Determination Based on the Least-Squares Modification of Stokes’ Formula] (PhD Thesis PDF)

ee also

*Physical geodesy

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • geoid — GEOÍD s.n. Corp geometric care reprezintă forma teoretică a Pământului, redusă la nivelul oceanelor. [pr.: ge o ] – Din fr. géoïde. Trimis de gall, 16.06.2002. Sursa: DEX 98  geoíd s. n. (sil. ge o ) Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa:… …   Dicționar Român

  • Geoïd — (geoidische Fläche) nennt Listing (»Nachrichten der königl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften etc.«, Götting. 1872) die ideelle Oberfläche der Erde, von der die Meeresoberfläche ein Teil ist. Denkt man sich das Festland von einem System von Kanälen …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Geoid — Geoid, s. Erde, Bd. 3, S. 485 …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

  • Geoid — Geoīd, wahre Erdgestalt, soweit sie nicht nur von der Kugel, sondern auch von dem Rotationsellipsoid abweicht …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • geoid — geòīd m <G geoída> DEFINICIJA hipotetsko nepravilno tijelo oblika Zemlje omeđeno plohom koju u zemaljskome gravitacijskom pojasu zauzima potpuno mirna morska površina produžena kroz kontinente i okomita u svakoj točki na smjer sile teže… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • geoid — [jē′oid΄] n. [Ger geoide < Gr geoeidēs, earthlike: see GEODE] Geodesy the earth viewed as a hypothetical ellipsoid with the surface represented as a mean sea level …   English World dictionary

  • geoid — geoidal, adj. /jee oyd/, n. 1. an imaginary surface that coincides with mean sea level in the ocean and its extension through the continents. 2. the geometric figure formed by this surface, an ellipsoid flattened at the poles. [1880 85; < Gk… …   Universalium

  • Geoid — Erdschwerefeld: Lotlinie durch P, Geoid (V = Vo und Äquipotentialflächen Vi) Das Geoid ist eine Bezugsfläche im Schwerefeld der Erde zur Vermessung und Beschreibung der Erdfigur. In guter Näherung wird das Geoid durch den mittleren Meeresspiegel… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Geoid — Geo|id 〈n. 11〉 Niveaufläche der Schwerkraft, hypothetische Oberfläche eines erdumspannenden Meeres bei Beibehaltung der tatsächlich vorliegenden Massenverteilung der Erde [<grch. ge „Erde“ + eidos „Form, Bild“] * * * Geoid   [griechisch] das,… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Geoid — geoidas statusas Aprobuotas sritis geodezija apibrėžtis Sunkio lauko ekvipotencialinis paviršius, einantis per geodezinių aukščių sistemos pradžią. atitikmenys: angl. geoid vok. Geoid, n rus. геоид pranc. géoide, m šaltinis Lietuvos Respublikos… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

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