Massentransporte und Massenverteilungen im System Erde  
    Framework for Third PhaseFramework for Third Phase  


Framework for Third Phase

In 2006, the senate of the German Research Association (DFG) had constituted the priority research programme 1257 „Mass Transport and Mass Distribution in the System Earth”, with a total duration of six years. A call has been issued for participation in the third two-year funding period.


Scope of the programme

The priority research programme aims at the determination of mass transports and mass distribution within the system Earth, by utilizing the observation of the space- and time-variations of the gravity field in combination with those of the geometry of the sea and ice surface, and of the surface of the solid Earth. Based on this information, our understanding of transport processes in the ocean, at the Earth’s surface and in the Earth’s interior and the interrelations between those processes will be improved. A key component has been the establishment of new gravity (GRACE and GOCE) and altimetry satellite missions, providing data sets of unprecedented homogeneity, resolution, quality and information content.

The following processes will be investigated: Absolute transports in the ocean and their temporal variation, changes in the terrestrial storage of water, the mass balance of the polar ice sheets, global and regional variations in sea level, and the dynamics of oceanic and continental lithosphere and the upper mantle of the Earth. These processes are connected by mass exchange between the atmosphere, oceans, ice sheets, terrestrial water storage systems and the solid Earth. The investigation of these interrelations and exchange mechanisms is therefore a central topic of the priority research programme.

The programme requires integrated approaches that can be realized only by an interdisciplinary analysis and modelling of data.


Strategy of the programme

Within the first two funding periods (2007-2008 and 2009-2010) the priority research programme was structured by interdisciplinary projects, defined against the background of seven disciplinary themes: From satellite sensors to mass signals, oceanic transports, continental hydrology, ice mass balance and sea level, glacial isostatic adjustment, dynamics and structure of mantle and crust, and consistent data combination and mass signal separation.

Recognizing the significant progress that has been achieved, following overarching themes have been identified for the third period (2011-2012

  • Understanding the satellite signals. The information content of the satellite gravity data sets is yet to be fully explored in terms of uncertainty, resolution and consistency. Before such data sets can be used operationally, e.g. by combination with or assimilation to other data or models, it is mandatory that their characteristics in time and space are fully understood. The quality of satellite gravity data sets depends critically, amongst others, on the quality of background models, on consistent data processing as well as on the use of application-tailored filters. Also, the ultimate goal of decomposing the integrated mass signal into its geoscientific constituents is complicated by using the same background models simultaneously for dealiasing purposes and for mass signal separation. Within the theme "understanding the satellite signals" projects are therefore solicited that aim to improve our understanding of satellite gravity data sets and their signal content. Such projects may be concerned with evaluation against external data sets and models, with calibration strategies and filter design, with the analysis and control of consistency, and so on.
  • Steady-state and long-term processes. Steady-state processes associated with the solid Earth, such as crustal structure and mantle convection, map themselves onto the static gravity field, whereas mass redistribution associated with the steady-state ocean circulation is better revealed by how it affects the mean sea surface. New and consolidated satellite data sets therefore provide an opportunity to improve our knowledge of these processes. For example, marine gravity data has been improved by reprocessed and extended altimetry, and with the March 2009 launch of GOCE, gravity data of improved accuracy and resolution will soon be available. Research should hence include the aim of achieving a successful integration of satellite data into models. Likewise, time-variable processes such as glacial-isostatic adjustment, ice-mass balance and sea-level rise can be further constrained with the improving accuracy and duration of the consolidated GRACE and satellite-altimetry time series. In addition, by considering complementary data, new insights into these processes can be developed. In the third phase, projects are solicitated that aim at improvements in physical modelling, the integration of satellite data, and the separation of signal contributions.
  • Short-term processes. At weekly to decadal timescales, water mass redistributions within and exchanges among near-surface Earth subsystems, such as oceans, cryosphere and continental hydrosphere, dominate. In the third phase, the assessments of all relevant contributions to water mass transports and water storage variations in the global hydrological cycle should be harmonized and integrated consistently. This includes a harmonization of the compartmental physical models as well as the validation of integrated water mass and flow modelling using GRACE, satellite altimetry and complementary data. Research should also aim at improvements of physical modelling approaches and GRACE processing required for achieving a successful integration.

The overarching goal of the priority research programme is the understanding and consistent quantification of mass transports and mass distribution in the Earth system. This will be realized by an utmost comprehensive description of the transport and distribution of mass in the ocean, at the Earth’s surface and in the Earth’s interior, at regional or global scale. Individual projects should therefore contribute components within this framework, with a clear indication which qualitative and quantitative improvements are been achieved by means of the new satellite data sets.


Further remarks for potential applicants

  • Projects envisaged for the third phase of the priority research programme should contribute to any of the above mentioned three themes. The first theme is cross-cutting and proposed projects should also contribute to one of the other themes.
  • Any proposals should clearly demonstrate that the intended research is facilitated through the innovative use of new satellite data sets.
  • Standard (e.g. operational) processing of satellite and terrestrial data sets will not be funded.
  • Projects that require expensive field work (e.g. calibration campaigns) will not to be funded.
  • Further information regarding the priority research programme can be obtained from the programme’s web-page at
  • Full applications for the third two-year period have to be submitted to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) in English language until July 1, 2010.
  • It is expected that potential applicants submit a brief project sketch through the programme’s web-page at until April 23, 2010.
  • The evaluation colloquium will take place at October 13-15, 2010 at Potsdam.

Additional information can be requested from the coordinator of the priority research programme, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jürgen Kusche, Institut für Geodäsie und Geoinformation, Universität Bonn, Nußallee 17, 53115 Bonn, Tel.: 0228-732629, E-Mail: and from the programme supervisor at the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), Dr. Johannes Karte, Tel.: 0228 8852320, EMail: