How to Calculate Bouguer Gravity Data in Planetary Studies

Robert Tenzer, Ismael Foroughi, Christian Hirt, Pavel Novák, Martin Pitoňák

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


In terrestrial studies, Bouguer gravity data is routinely computed by adopting various numerical schemes, starting from the most basic concept of approximating the actual topography by an infinite Bouguer plate, through adding a planar terrain correction to account for a local/regional terrain geometry, to more advanced schemes that involve the computation of the topographic gravity correction by taking into consideration a gravitational contribution of the whole topography while adopting a spherical (or ellipsoidal) approximation. Moreover, the topographic density information has significantly improved the gravity forward modeling and interpretations, especially in polar regions (by accounting for a density contrast of polar glaciers) and in regions characterized by a complex geological structure. Whereas in geodetic studies (such as a gravimetric geoid modeling) only the gravitational contribution of topographic masses above the geoid is computed and subsequently removed from observed (free-air) gravity data, geophysical studies focusing on interpreting the Earth’s inner structure usually require the application of additional stripping gravity corrections that account for known anomalous density structures in order to reveal an unknown (and sought) density structure or density interface. In planetary studies, numerical schemes applied to compile Bouguer gravity maps might differ from terrestrial studies due to two reasons. While in terrestrial studies the topography is defined by physical heights above the geoid surface (i.e., the geoid-referenced topography), in planetary studies the topography is commonly described by geometric heights above the geometric reference surface (i.e., the geometric-referenced topography). Moreover, large parts of a planetary surface have negative heights. This obviously has implications on the computation of the topographic gravity correction and consequently Bouguer gravity data because in this case the application of this correction not only removes the gravitational contribution of a topographic mass surplus, but also compensates for a topographic mass deficit. In this study, we examine numerically possible options of computing the topographic gravity correction and consequently the Bouguer gravity data in planetary applications. In agreement with a theoretical definition of the Bouguer gravity correction, the Bouguer gravity maps compiled based on adopting the geoid-referenced topography are the most relevant. In this case, the application of the topographic gravity correction removes only the gravitational contribution of the topography. Alternative options based on using geometric heights, on the other hand, subtract an additional gravitational signal, spatially closely correlated with the geoidal undulations, that is often attributed to deep mantle density heterogeneities, mantle plumes or other phenomena that are not directly related to a topographic density distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-132
Number of pages26
JournalSurveys in Geophysics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019


  • Bouguer gravity
  • Correction
  • Moon
  • Telluric planets
  • Topography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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