Field lines of gravity, their curvature and torsion, the Lagrange and the Hamilton equations of the plumbline

E. W. Grafarend


The length of the gravitational field lines/of the orthogonal trajectories of a family of gravity equipotential surfaces/of the plumbline between a terrestrial topographic point and a point on a reference equipotential surface like the geoid í also known as the orthometric height í plays a central role in Satellite Geodesy as well as in Physical Geodesy. As soon as we determine the geometry of the Earth pointwise by means of a satellite GPS (Global Positioning System: «global problem solver») we are left with the problem of converting ellipsoidal heights (geometric heights) into orthometric heights (physical heights). For the computation of the plumbline we derive its three differential equations of first order as well as the three geodesic equations of second order. The three differential equations of second order take the form of a Newton differential equation when we introduce the parameter time via the Marussi gauge on a conformally flat three-dimensional Riemann manifold and the generalized force field, the gradient of the superpotential, namely the modulus of gravity squared and taken half. In particular, we compute curvature and torsion of the plumbline and prove their functional relationship to the second and third derivatives of the gravity potential. For a spherically symmetric gravity field, curvature and torsion of the plumbline are zero, the plumbline is straight. Finally we derive the three Lagrangean as well as the six Hamiltonian differential equations of the plumbline, in particular in their star form with respect to Marussi gauge.


field lines of gravity;plumbline;orthometric heights

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Published by INGV, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia - ISSN: 2037-416X