Reformulation of Parker-Oldenburg's method for Earth's spherical approximation

Wenjin Chen, Robert Tenzer

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Parker-Oldenburg's method is perhaps the most commonly used technique to estimate the depth of density interface from gravity data. To account for large density variations reported, for instance, at the Moho interface, between the ocean seawater density and marine sediments, or between sediments and the underlying bedrock, some authors extended this method for variable density models. Parker-Oldenburg's method is suitable for local studies, given that a functional relationship between gravity data and interface geometry is derived for Earth's planar approximation. The application of this method in (large-scale) regional, continental or global studies is, however, practically restricted by errors due to disregarding Earth's sphericity. Parker-Oldenburg's method was, therefore, reformulated also for Earth's spherical approximation, but assuming only a uniform density. The importance of taking into consideration density heterogeneities at the interface becomes even more relevant in the context of (large-scale) regional or global studies. To address this issue, we generalize Parker-Oldenburg's method (defined for a spherical coordinate system) for the depth of heterogeneous density interface. Furthermore, we extend our definitions for gravity gradient data of which use in geoscience applications increased considerably, especially after launching the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) gravity-gradiometry satellite mission. For completeness, we also provide expressions for potential. The study provides the most complete review of Parker-Oldenburg's method in planar and spherical cases defined for potential, gravity and gravity gradient, while incorporating either uniform or heterogeneous density model at the interface. To improve a numerical efficiency of gravimetric forward modelling and inversion, described in terms of spherical harmonics of Earth's gravity field and interface geometry, we use the fast Fourier transform technique for spherical harmonic analysis and synthesis. The (newly derived) functional models are tested numerically. Our results over a (large-scale) regional study area confirm that the consideration of a global integration and Earth's sphericty improves results of a gravimetric forward modelling and inversion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1046-1073
Number of pages28
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2020


  • Fourier analysis
  • Geopotential theory
  • Gravity anomalies and Earth structure
  • Inverse theory
  • Satellite gravity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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