Science background - General concepts

The Earth is constantly changing shape. To be understood in context, when the motion of the Earth's crust is observed, it must be referenced. A Terrestrial Reference frame provides a set of coordinates of some points located on the Earth's surface. It can be used to measure plate tectonics, regional subsidence or loading1 and/or used to represent the Earth when measuring its rotation in space. This rotation is measured with respect to a frame tied to stellar objects, called a celestial reference frame. The IERS was created in 1988 to establish and maintain a Celestial Reference Frame, the ICRF, a Terrestrial Reference Frame, the ITRF. The EOPs connect these two frames together. These frames provide a common reference to compare observations and results from different locations1. Nowadays, four main geodetic techniques are used to compute accurate coordinates: the GPS, VLBI, SLR, and DORIS. Since the tracking network equipped with the instruments of those techniques is evolving and the period of data available increases with time, the ITRF is constantly being updated. 11 realizations of the ITRS were set up from 1988. The latest is the ITRF2014.

All these realizations include station positions and velocities. They model secular Earth’s crust changes that’s why they can be used to compare observations from different epochs. All the higher frequencies of the station displacements can be accessed with the IERS conventions, chapter 72. Continuity between the realizations has been ensured as much as possible when adopting conventions for ITRF definitions. The relationship linking all these solutions is of utmost importance. They are supplied here by the transformation parameters.

The International Terrestrial Reference System (ITRS) is a world spatial reference system co-rotating with the Earth in its diurnal motion in space. The IERS, in charge of providing global references to the astronomical, geodetic and geophysical communities, supervises the realization of the ITRS. Realizations of the ITRS are produced by the IERS ITRS Product Center (ITRS-PC) under the name International Terrestrial Reference Frames (ITRF). ITRF coordinates were obtained by combination of individual TRF solutions computed by IERS analysis centers using the observations of Space Geodesy techniques : GPS , VLBI , SLR, LLR and DORIS. They all use networks of stations located on sites covering the whole Earth.

For more details:


  1. Altamimi et al., The Terrestrial Reference frame and the Dynamic Earth, EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 82, No25, June 19, 2001, page 273  

  2. IERS Conventions (2010). Gérard Petit and Brian Luzum (eds.), IERS Technical note 36, 2010