Improved methods for observing Earth's time variable mass distribution with GRACE using spherical cap mascons
We discuss several classes of improvements to gravity solutions from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission. These include both improvements in background geophysical models and orbital parameterization leading to the unconstrained spherical harmonic solution JPL RL05, and an alternate JPL RL05M mass concentration (mascon) solution benefitting from those same improvements but derived in surface spherical cap mascons. The mascon basis functions allow for convenient application of a priori information derived from near-global geophysical models to prevent striping in the solutions. The resulting mass flux solutions are shown to suffer less from leakage errors than harmonic solutions, and do not necessitate empirical filters to remove north-south stripes, lowering the dependence on using scale factors (the global mean scale factor decreases by 0.17) to gain accurate mass estimates. Ocean bottom pressure (OBP) time series derived from the mascon solutions are shown to have greater correlation with in situ data than do spherical harmonic solutions (increase in correlation coefficient of 0.08 globally), particularly in low-latitude regions with small signal power (increase in correlation coefficient of 0.35 regionally), in addition to reducing the error RMS with respect to the in situ data (reduction of 0.37 cm globally, and as much as 1 cm regionally). Greenland and Antarctica mass balance estimates derived from the mascon solutions agree within formal uncertainties with previously published results. Computing basin averages for hydrology applications shows general agreement between harmonic and mascon solutions for large basins; however, mascon solutions typically have greater resolution for smaller spatial regions, in particular when studying secular signals.