Articles | Volume 7, issue 2
Review article
27 Oct 2016
Review article |  | 27 Oct 2016

A historical review of gravimetric observations in Norway

Bjørn Ragnvald Pettersen

Abstract. The first gravity determinations in Norway were made by Edward Sabine in 1823 with a pendulum instrument by Henry Kater. Seventy years later a Sterneck pendulum was acquired by the Norwegian Commission for the International Arc Measurements. It improved the precision and eventually reduced the bias of the absolute calibration from 85 to 15 mGal. The last pendulum observations in Norway were made in 1955 with an instrument from Cambridge University. At a precision of ±1 mGal, the purpose was to calibrate a section of the gravity line from Rome, Italy, to Hammerfest, Norway.

Relative spring gravimeters were introduced in Norway in 1946 and were used to densify and expand the national gravity network. These data were used to produce regional geoids for Norway and adjacent ocean areas. Improved instrument precision allowed them to connect Norwegian and foreign fundamental stations as well. Extensive geophysical prospecting was made, as in other countries.

The introduction of absolute gravimeters based on free-fall methods, especially after 2004, improved the calibration by 3 orders of magnitude and immediately revealed the secular changes of the gravity field in Norway. This was later confirmed by satellite gravimetry, which provides homogeneous data sets for global and regional gravity models.

The first-ever determinations of gravity at sea were made by pendulum observations onboard the Norwegian polar vessel Fram during frozen-in conditions in the Arctic Ocean in 1893–1896. Simultaneously, an indirect method was developed at the University of Oslo for deducing gravity at sea with a hypsometer. The precision of both methods was greatly superseded by relative spring gravimeters 50 years later. They were employed extensively both at sea and on land. When GPS allowed precise positioning, relative gravimeters were mounted in airplanes to cover large areas of ocean faster than before.

Gravimetry is currently being applied to study geodynamical phenomena relevant to climate change. The viscoelastic postglacial land uplift of Fennoscandia has been detected by terrestrial gravity time series as well as by satellite gravimetry. Corrections for local effects of snow load, hydrology, and ocean loading at coastal stations have been improved. The elastic adjustment of present-day melting of glaciers at Svalbard and in mainland Norway has been detected. Gravimetry is extensively employed at offshore oil facilities to monitor the subsidence of the ocean floor during oil and gas extraction.

Short summary
Early data by pendulum instruments in Norway contributed to the first global gravity system. Spring gravimeters were used for a national gravity database, geoid computation, and for geophysical prospecting. Absolute gravimeters revealed gravity changes caused by land uplift since the last ice age. The first gravity data at sea were obtained in the Arctic Ocean. Current terrestrial and satellite data allow geodynamical studies relevant to climate change, caused by melting glaciers and ice sheets.