Teach the Earth > Structural Geology > Structure, Geophysics, and Tectonics 2012 > Teaching Activities > Measuring the vertical gradient of gravity

Measuring the vertical gradient of gravity

Rob Sternberg, Franklin & Marshall College

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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 1, 2012


The free-air effect tells us that as elevation above sea level increases, gravitational acceleration g decreases at the rate of about 0.3086 mgal/meter. This effect is routinely corrected for when making gravity surveys. We will use the LaCoste & Romberg gravimeter to measure the free-air effect in a tall building on campus, and compare with the theoretical value.

keywords: gravity; vertical gradient; gravimeter



undergraduate elective course in geophysics

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

follow instructions to use an expensive and delicate instrument
use a spreadsheet to tabulate, graph and analyze numerical data

How the activity is situated in the course

As a two-week lab exercise, one week for measurement in small groups, and one week for analysis


Content/concepts goals for this activity

effects on gravitational acceleration

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

analysis of data acquired
formulation of hypotheses why experimental value may not agree with accepted value
consideration of accuracy, precision, and replicability of results

Other skills goals for this activity

writing of lab report in scientific paper format
operating analytical equipment
working in groups to collect data and interpret results

Description and Teaching Materials

Vertical gradient of gravity lab handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Apr30 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Needs a gravimeter
Data must be reviewed by instructor and errors parsed, especially if data are to be shared among groups


Writeup of lab report in scientific paper format

References and Resources

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