On the applicability of molodensky’s concept of heights in planetary sciences

Robert Tenzer, Ismael Foroughi

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Geometric heights, defined with respect to a geometric reference surface, are the most commonly used in planetary studies, but the use of physical heights defined with respect to an equipotential surface (typically the geoid) has been also acknowledged for specific studies (such as gravity-driven mass movements). In terrestrial studies, the geoid is defined as an equipotential surface that best fits the mean sea surface and extends under continents. Since gravimetric geoid modelling under continents is limited by the knowledge of a topographic density distribution, alternative concepts have been proposed. Molodensky introduced the quasigeoid as a height reference surface that could be determined from observed gravity without adopting any hypothesis about the topographic density. This concept is widely used in geodetic applications because differences between the geoid and the quasigeoid are mostly up to a few centimeters, except for mountainous regions. Here we discuss the possible applicability of Molodensky’s concept in planetary studies. The motivation behind this is rationalized by two factors. Firstly, knowledge of the crustal densi ies of planetary bodies is insufficient. Secondly, large parts of planetary surfaces have negative heights, implying that density information is not required. Taking into consideration the various theoretical and practical aspects discussed in this article, we believe that the choice between the geoid and the quasigeoid is not strictly limited because both options have advantages and disadvantages. We also demonstrate differences between the geoid and the quasigeoid on Mercury, Venus, Mars and Moon, showing that they are larger than on Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number239
JournalGeosciences (Switzerland)
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2018


  • Geoid
  • Gravity
  • Quasigeoid
  • Topography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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