Experiences with the use of mass-density maps in residual gravity forward modelling

Meng Yang, Christian Hirt, Robert Tenzer, Roland Pail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


In many modern local and regional gravity field modelling concepts, the short-wavelength gravitational signal modeled by the residual terrain modelling (RTM) technique is used to augment global geopotential models, or to smooth observed gravity prior to data gridding. In practice, the evaluation of RTM effects mostly relies on a constant density assumption, because of the difficulty and complexity of obtaining information on the actual distribution of density of topographic masses. Where the actual density of topographic masses deviates from the adopted value, errors are present in the RTM mass-model, and hence, in the forward-modelled residual gravity field. In this paper we attempt to overcome this problem by combining the RTM technique with a high-resolution mass-density model. We compute RTM gravity quantities over New Zealand, with different combinations of elevation models and mass-density assumptions using gravity and GPS/levelling measurements, precise terrain and bathymetry models, a high-resolution mass-density model and constant density assumptions as main input databases. Based on gravity observations and the RTM technique, optimum densities are detected for North Island of ~2500 kg m−3, South Island of ~2600 kg m−3, and the whole New Zealand of ~2590 kg m−3. Comparison among the three sets of residual gravity disturbances computed from different mass-density assumptions show that, together with a global potential model, the high-resolution New Zealand density model explains ~89.5% of gravitational signals, a constant density assumption of 2670 kg m−3 explains ~90.2%, while a regionally optimum mass-density explains ~90.3%. Detailed comparison shows that the New Zealand density model works best over areas with small residual heights. Over areas with larger residual heights, subsurface density variations appear to affect the residual gravity disturbance. This effect is found to reach about 30 mGal over Southern Alpine Fault. In order to improve the RTM modelling with mass-density maps, a higher-quality mass-density model that provides radially varying mass-density data would be desirable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)596-623
Number of pages28
JournalStudia Geophysica et Geodaetica
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • density model
  • locally optimum mass-density
  • residual gravity field
  • residual terrain modelling (RTM)


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