Terms of Reference

President: Jürgen Müller, Germany
Vice President: Marcelo Santos, Canada

The novel developments in quantum physics of the previous decade, including new technologies and related measurement concepts, will open up enhanced prospects for satellite geodesy, terrestrial gravity sensing and reference systems. In close collaboration between physics and geodesy, this new IAG project shall exploit the high potential of quantum technology and novel measurement concepts for various innovative applications in geodesy.

Climate change often is reflected in mass variations on Earth. And, many mass change processes in the hydrosphere, geosphere and atmosphere are widely imprinted in gravitational data. However, gravitational data with better spatial-temporal resolution and higher accuracy is required, which can only be achieved by employing innovative quantum technology concepts. Highly stable and accurate reference systems provide the fundamental backbone to monitor the change processes in the Earth system, where clocks will play a central role in the future. QuGe will serve as a unique platform for developing and evaluating those novel concepts and observation systems, where also further applications, like in exploration and navigation, may benefit. Technology development and space mission requirements have to be linked to geodetic and geophysical modelling in a synergetic way. Optical ranging between test masses in satellites, atom- interferometric accelerometry and gradiometry, and chronometric levelling with clocks are the needed approaches to overcome the problems of classical concepts in geodesy. With these novel techniques, mass variations on almost all spatial and temporal scales can be observed with unprecedented accuracy and will serve as input for a multitude of applications in geosciences, from the monitoring of smaller groundwater basins and geodynamic effects to the observation of the complex global mass transport processes in the oceans.

The combination of expertise from quantum physics and geodesy in QuGe, integrating engineering skills and fundamental research, serves as an excellent basis to advance the frontiers of gravimetric Earth observation and the realization of reference systems.


QuGe will put its focus on three major pillars

  1. Atom interferometry for gravimetry on ground and in space (quantum gravimetry) will allow for a comprehensive set of applications, such as fast local gravimetric surveys and exploration, or the observation of gravimetric Earth system processes with high spatial and temporal resolution. In space, atom interferometry will enable accelerometry and inertial sensing in a modernistic way. The use of atom interferometry in hybrid systems with electrostatic accelerometers may allow to cover a wide spectral range for future inertial sensing and navigation. It will benefit satellite navigation, but also serve as a basis for developing the next generation of gradiometer missions (GOCE follow-on).
  2. Laser-interferometric ranging between test masses in space with nanometer accuracy belongs to these novel developments as well, where technology developed for gravitational wave detection and successfully tested in the LISA/pathfinder mission is being prepared for geodetic measurements. GRACE-FO already demonstrates this new development. Even more refined concepts, like tracking a swarm of satellites, might be realized within the next years. Optical techniques may also be applied for test mass sensing in future accelerometers, and even combined to next generation gradiometry in space.
  3. Frequency comparisons of highly precise optical clocks connected by optical links give access to differences of the gravity potential over long distances (relativistic geodesy). In the future, relativistic geodesy with clocks will be applied for defining and realizing height systems in a new way, locally as well as globally. As further application, clock measurements will provide long-wavelength gravity field information. Moreover, accurate clocks help to improve the accuracy of the International Atomic Time standard TAI. They are important for all space geodetic techniques as well as for the realization of reference systems and their connections. Another application example is the possible use of high-performance clock networks to support GNSS.

In all three research areas, along with the research on measurement systems and techniques, the analysis models have to be put on a sound theoretical basis. This requires dedicated geodetic and relativistic modelling of the various involved gravity field quantities and measurement concepts.

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