Methods of harmonic synthesis for global geopotential models and their first-, second- and third-order gradients

E. Fantino, Stefano Casotto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Four widely used algorithms for the computation of the Earth's gravitational potential and its first-, second- and third-order gradients are examined: the traditional increasing degree recursion in associated Legendre functions and its variant based on the Clenshaw summation, plus the methods of Pines and Cunningham-Metris, which are free from the singularities that distinguish the first two methods at the geographic poles. All four methods are reorganized with the lumped coefficients approach, which in the cases of Pines and Cunningham-Metris requires a complete revision of the algorithms. The characteristics of the four methods are studied and described, and numerical tests are performed to assess and compare their precision, accuracy, and efficiency. In general the performance levels of all four codes exhibit large improvements over previously published versions. From the point of view of numerical precision, away from the geographic poles Clenshaw and Legendre offer an overall better quality. Furthermore, Pines and Cunningham-Metris are affected by an intrinsic loss of precision at the equator and suffer from additional deterioration when the gravity gradients components are rotated into the East-North-Up topocentric reference system.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)595-619
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Geodesy
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2009


  • Associated Legendre functions
  • Clenshaw summation
  • Geopotential
  • Gravitational gradients
  • Gravity tensors
  • Helmholtz polynomials
  • Spherical harmonics


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