Effect of the lateral topographic density distribution on interpretational properties of Bouguer gravity maps

Samurdhika Rathnayake, Robert Tenzer, Martin Pitoňák, Pavel Novák

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Until recently, the information about the topographic density distribution has been limited to only certain regions and some countries, while missing in the global context. The UNB_TopoDens is the first model that provides the information about a lateral topographic density globally. The analysis of this model also reveals that the average topographic density for the entire continental landmass (excluding polar glaciers) is 2247 kg m-3. This density differs significantly from the value of 2670 kg m-3 that is typically adopted to represent the continental upper crustal density. In this study, we use the UNB_TopoDens density model to inspect how the topographic density variations affect interpretational properties of Bouguer gravity maps. Since this model provides also the information about density uncertainties of individual lithologies (main rock types), we estimate the corresponding errors in the Bouguer gravity data. Despite a new estimate of the average topographic density corresponds to relative changes of ∼16 per cent in values of the topographic gravity correction, these changes do not affect interpretational properties of Bouguer gravity maps. The anomalous topographic density distribution (taken with respect to the average density of 2247 kg m-3), however, modifies the Bouguer gravity pattern. We demonstrate that the gravitational contribution of anomalous topographic density is globally mostly within ±25 mGal, but much large values are detected in Himalaya, Tibet, central Andes and along the East African Rift System. Our estimates also indicate that errors in the Bouguer gravity data attributed to topographic density uncertainties are mostly less than ±15 mGal, but in mountainous regions could reach large values exceeding even ±50 mGal. Unarguably, the UNB_TopoDens model provides an improved information about the global topographic density variations and their uncertainties. Nevertheless, much more in situ measurements of rock density samples together with detailed 3-D geological models are still necessary to understand better the actual density distribution within the whole topography, particularly to mention a density change with depth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)892-909
Number of pages18
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Geopotential theory
  • Reference systems
  • Satellite gravity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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