Magnetics Group Banner

Geomagnetic Reference Field

    Earth's magnetic field can be approximated by a series expansion of orthogonal spherical harmonics. This expansion is an infinite series in terms of coefficients gnm and hnm where m varies from 0 to n and n varies from 1 to infinity. Typically, the series is truncated at n = 10 or more recently n = 12 (i.e. 12 terms). In the spherical coordinate system, the expansion of Earth's magnetic field in terms of the magnetic potential, V in spherical harmonics can be written as:

    where RE is the mean radius of the Earth (6371.2 km) and Pnm (cos θ) are the Schmidt quasi-normalized associated Legendre functions where θ is the colatitude (90-latitude) and φ is the longitude. Schmidt (1934) introduced the following normalization constant for the associated Legendre function Pnm(x):

    The associated Legendre function becomes:

    The 'Gauss' normalized coefficients gnm and hnm are determined experimentally by combining earth-based and satellite measurements of Earth's magnetic field every 5 years. The most recent set of coefficients has been released for 2015 by the V-MOD Working Group of the International Association for Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA) and is know as the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF).



    Cain, J. C., S. J. Hendricks, R. A. Langel, and W. V. Hudson, A proposed model for the international geomagnetic reference field-1965, J. Geomag. Geoelectr., 19, 335-355, 1967.

    Campbell, W., Introduction to geomagnetic fields, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.

    Chapman, S. and J. Bartels, Geomagnetism, 2 vols., pp 1049, Oxford University Press, London, 1940.

    Langel, R. A., Main Field, Chapter Four in Geomagnetism, ed. J. A. Jacobs, Academic Press, London, 1987.

    Maus, S. et al., The 10th generation International Geomagnetic Reference Field, Geophys J. Int., 161, 561-565, 2005.

    Peddie, N. W., International Geomagnetic Reference Field: The Third Generation, J. Geomag. Geoelectr., 34, pp. 309-326, 1985.

    Schmidt, A., Der magnetische mittlepunkt de erde und seine Bedeutung, Gerlands Beitr. Geophys., 41, 346-358, 1934.

© Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. All rights reserved

Link back to Woods Hole Oceanographic Home Page