Global biomass variation and its geodynamic effects: 1982-98

M. Rodell, B. F. Chao, A. Y. Au, J. S. Kimball, K. C. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Redistribution of mass near Earth's surface alters its rotation, gravity field, and geocenter location. Advanced techniques for measuring these geodetic variations now exist, but the ability to attribute the observed modes to individual Earth system processes has been hampered by a shortage of reliable global data on such processes, especially hydrospheric processes. To address one aspect of this deficiency, 17 yr of monthly, global maps of vegetation biomass were produced by applying field-based relationships to satellitederived vegetation type and leaf area index. The seasonal variability of biomass was estimated to be as large as 5 kg m-2. Of this amount, approximately 4 kg m-2 is due to vegetation water storage variations. The time series of maps was used to compute geodetic anomalies, which were then compared with existing geodetic observations as well as the estimated measurement sensitivity of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). For gravity, the seasonal amplitude of biomass variations may be just within GRACE's limits of detectability, but it is still an order of magnitude smaller than current observation uncertainty using the satellite-laser-ranging technique. The contribution of total biomass variations to seasonal polar motion amplitude is detectable in today's measurement, but it is obscured by contributions from various other sources, some of which are two orders of magnitude larger. The influence on the length of day is below current limits of detectability. Although the nonseasonal geodynamic signals show clear interannual variability, they are too small to be detected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEarth Interactions
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005


  • Biogeochemical cycles
  • Earth rotation variations
  • Remote sensing
  • Timevariable gravity


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