Geodesy by radio interferometry: Evidence for contemporary plate motion


  • T. A. Herring,

  • I. I. Shapiro,

  • T. A. Clark,

  • C. Ma,

  • J. W. Ryan,

  • B. R. Schupler,

  • C. A. Knight,

  • G. Lundqvist,

  • D. B. Shaffer,

  • N. R. Vandenberg,

  • B. E. Corey,

  • H. F. Hinteregger,

  • A. E. E. Rogers,

  • J. C. Webber,

  • A. R. Whitney,

  • G. Elgered,

  • B. O. Ronnang,

  • J. L. Davis


Analysis of 211 very long baseline interferometry observing sessions carried out between November 1979 and August 1984 has yielded estimates of the distances between various radio telescopes located in North America and Europe. The average rate of change of the distances between four radio telescopes in North America (Haystack Observatory, Massachusetts; Westford Radio Telescope, Massachusetts; George R. Agassiz Station, Texas; and Owens Valley Radio Observatory, California) and one in Europe (Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden) obtained from the analysis of these data is 19 ± 10 mm/yr, where the (68% confidence interval) standard deviation is for the estimate of the rate of change of the Haystack-Onsala baseline length, the one determined most accurately from these data. This estimate of the standard deviation is dominated by the effects of correlated systematic errors due mostly to errors in the model used for the atmospheric delay which we infer introduces errors in each baseline length estimate of 40 mm standard deviation and 60 days correlation time. (By contrast the statistical standard deviation is only 2 mm/yr.) The estimated geologic rates of change of these baseline lengths, averaged over ∼ 106 years, are 15 to 17 ± 3 mm/yr for the various North American sites to Onsala. Improvements in our model of the atmosphere, and continued monitoring of the distances between North American and European telescopes, will allow the uncertainty of the rate estimates to be reduced over the next few years to a value small compared to our estimated rate of change of these baseline lengths. The use of multiple radio telescopes in Europe will allow us also to separate possible local site motions from plate motions.