GRACE observations of changes in continental water storage

Signatures between monthly global Earth gravity field solutions obtained from GRACE satellite mission data are analyzed with respect to continental water storage variability. GRACE gravity field models are derived in terms of Stokes\textquoteright coefficients of a spherical harmonic expansion of the gravitational potential from the analysis of gravitational orbit perturbations of the two GRACE satellites using GPS high low and K-band low low intersatellite tracking and on-board accelerometry. Comparing the GRACE observations, i.e., the mass variability extracted from temporal gravity variations, with the water mass redistribution predicted by hydrological models, it is found that, when filtering with an averaging radius of 750 km, the hydrological signals generated by the world\textquoterights major river basins are clearly recovered by GRACE. The analyses are based on differences in gravity and continental water mass distribution over 3- and 6-month intervals during the period April 2002 to May 2003. A background model uncertainty of some 35 mm in equivalent water column height from one month to another is estimated to be inherent in the present GRACE solutions at the selected filter length. The differences over 3 and 6 months between the GRACE monthly solutions reveal a signal of some 75 mm scattering with peak values of 400 mm in equivalent water column height changes over the continents, which is far above the uncertainty level and about 50\% larger than predicted by global hydrological models. The inversion method, combining GRACE results with the signal and stochastic properties of a hydrological model as \textquotelefta priori\textquoteright in a statistical least squares adjustment, significantly reduces the overall power in the obtained water mass estimates due to error reduction, but also reflects the current limitations in the hydrological models to represent total continental water storage change in particular for the major river basins.
Year of Publication
Global and Planetary Change
Number of Pages
Date Published