Research Papers

Analysis of Several Years of DI Magnetometer Comparison Results by the Geomagnetic Network of China and IAGA

Authors: {'first_name': 'Yufei', 'last_name': 'He'},{'first_name': 'Xudong', 'last_name': 'Zhao'},{'first_name': 'Dongmei', 'last_name': 'Yang'},{'first_name': 'Fuxi', 'last_name': 'Yang'},{'first_name': 'Na', 'last_name': 'Deng'},{'first_name': 'Xijing', 'last_name': 'Li'}


The comparison of absolute geomagnetic instruments is an important component of geomagnetic observation. To promote high quality standards in geomagnetic data acquisition, the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA) organizes an international comparison every two years. In China, this comparison is part of quality control process for geomagnetic observation data, and is organized by the Geomagnetic Network of China (GNC). In this paper, the comparison results from several years are analysed in detail, and some useful information is presented that will help to guide the observatory’s future observation work and improve data quality. In addition, the quality of the absolute observation data of GNC and IAGA is evaluated using a statistical method. This should aid scientists who use these data to understand their research results.

Keywords: Data qualityComparisonAbsolute measurementsDI magnetometerGNCIAGA 
 Accepted on 12 Sep 2019            Submitted on 25 Apr 2019

1 Introduction

Geomagnetic observatories use variometers to record the continuous variations of the geomagnetic field. The continuous absolute geomagnetic field can be determined by adding a value, known as the baseline and calculated by the absolute measurement results, to the variations (Bitterly et al., 1984; Jankowski and Sucksdorff, 1996). Therefore, for a geomagnetic observatory, the absolute measurements play a decisive role in the quality of continuous absolute value. At different observatories, the differences between these absolute instruments cannot be ignored. Thus, comparisons of the absolute instruments become an indispensable part of geomagnetic observations. Currently, the absolute measurements are made by the modern high precision fluxgate theodolite (to measure declination, D, and inclination, I) and proton magnetometer (to measure the magnetic field, F). The comparisons are no longer needed as frequently as before. However, they are still useful for achieving high-quality data of the continuous absolute geomagnetic field.

To promote high-quality data in geomagnetic observation, the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA) Division V Working Group V-OBS organizes an international comparison every two years. To date, 18 comparison sessions have been conducted and the results published online or in papers. In China, the comparison is also partly of the quality control work of the Geomagnetic Network of China (GNC), which is both the data centre and the quality control centre of the observatory’s observation data (Zhang et al. 2016). Since the beginning of the observatory digitization, several types of declination-inclination magnetometers (DIMs) have been successively introduced into the observatory of the GNC for absolute measurements, for example, Chinese CTM DIM, Hungarian MINGEO DIM, British MAG-01 DIM, Chinese GEO DIM, and Chinese TDJ2E-NM DIM. As all of these DIMs are operated manually, the systematic differences between them and the individual differences between the observers are unavoidable in the measurement process. To achieve high data quality and unify the observation standards of observatories, the GNC so far has organized and completed several comparisons.

Absolute measurements are important for the defining continuous absolute observation data. Thus, this paper only focuses on the DIM comparison session, in which a large number of absolute measurements are made. The results from several years of the DIM comparison organized by GNC and IAGA are collected here. It hopes that some useful information can be found through detailed analysis, which will be helpful for identifying the error in absolute measurements and ensuring better quality control. The data quality also can be estimated by these results, which will help the researchers who use the data to understand the current quality level of absolute measurements and their research results. The measurement and comparison methods are described in Section 2, the results and analyses are displayed in Section 3, and the conclusions to this study are given in Section 4.

2 Measurement and comparison method

2.1 Measurement method

The geomagnetic field is a vector field that needs to be measured in terms of its size and direction. DIMs consists of a nonmagnetic theodolite and a fluxgate sensor, are the standard instrument for measuring the geomagnetic field direction (D and I). The fluxgate sensor mounted on the top of the theodolite’s telescope is nearly aligned with the optical axis. The fluxgate sensor outputs a null signal when the geomagnetic field is perpendicular to the sensor direction. Thus, the direction of the geomagnetic field can be determined by looking for the position where the sensor’s output is null, and the position can be recorded by reading from the circle of the theodolite. For any two directions read from the circle of the theodolite, the angle between them can be obtained by calculating the difference. This is the basic principle of measurement.

The measurement of the geomagnetic declination and inclination are realized in the horizontal and vertical plane of the theodolite, respectively. To measuring the declination D, the telescope axis must be in the horizontal plane, so the first task is to level the theodolite using its bubble levels and leveling screws. As the fluxgate sensor axis perpendicular to the magnetic meridian, D is determined by the horizontal geomagnetic field and the true north direction, so there are two main steps in measuring declination. The first step is to measure the true north direction. The observer should adjust the telescope to ensure that the optical axis is aligned with the azimuth mark, and then record the reading of horizontal circle, denoted by M and shown in Figure 1. The azimuth of the mark, represented by A is already known, so the position of the true north direction can be calculated. The second step is to establish the geomagnetic field direction. The observer should adjust the telescope on the horizontal plane so that the theodolite vertical circle reading is exactly 90° or 270°, then search for the position at which the sensor output is null and record the horizontal circle reading of the geomagnetic field, indicated by D′. Finally, the geomagnetic declination D can be computed from the circle readings as:

Figure 1 

The main measuring principle of the declination.

To measuring inclination I, the telescope axis must be fixed in the geomagnetic meridian plane. The measurement is then performed by searching the sensor’s null position. This is the same process as for the declination, although the measurement is carried out without a measuring mark. This is the main measurement process.

Note that a measurement with a DIM refers to a set of measurements, as elimination of instrumental errors necessitates at least four individual measurements for the declination D and two measurements for the inclination I (Rasson, 2005). In the actual measurement procedure, four observation positions of the telescope are needed to determine one direction: telescope towards East and sensor up (D1), telescope towards West and sensor down (D2), telescope towards East and sensor down (D3), and telescope towards West and sensor up (D4). Then mean of the four readings gives the final measurement result, expressed by


The same procedure is also applied to the inclination measurement. Again, four observation positions are possible, of which two are sufficient for error correction. In this case, the observation positions are telescope towards North and sensor up (I1), telescope towards South and sensor down (I2), telescope towards North and sensor down (I3), and telescope towards South and sensor up (I4). The final inclination is the mean of the four readings, i.e.,


The misalignment between fluxgate sensor and optical axis can be compensated in this way. In addition, there are two methods for the circle reading, namely the null method (exactly zero) and the offset method (near zero). The detailed measurements procedure is described in the IAGA guide (Newitt et al., 1996). The two methods have been discussed by Xin (2003), Lu (2008) and Deng (2011). They found that if the output of the theodolite was linear, the offset method could achieve the same accuracy as the null method, even if the observer had slightly magnetic material. Usually, the modern theodolite output is highly linear, so the offset method is frequently used for the measurement. The unique absolute vector geomagnetic field can be determined by D, I and F (measured by a proton magnetometer), and the baselines of each component of the variometer can be calculated. Note that considerable effort has been directed toward the development of new observation technology (Auster et al., 2003; Rasson et al., 2011). Recently, some automatic DIMs have been realized and are performing some observations (Gonsette et al., 2017; Hegymegi et al., 2017; Brunke et al., 2018). In the future, the automatic instruments would allow completely unattended magnetic observatory operation.

2.2 Comparison method

To achieve high-quality data in geomagnetic observation, the differences between absolute instruments from different observatories should be checked. Thus, comparisons of the absolute instruments are an indispensable part of geomagnetic observation. There are two main ways to determine the difference between instruments: direct comparison by simultaneous measurements and indirect comparison by comparing the reference values. If two or more pillars are available for the absolute measurements, the instruments can be compared directly through simultaneous measurements. Both the instruments’ difference and the pillars’ difference can be obtained by interchanging the instruments’ location and applying the same observation method. The instruments’ difference for arbitrary component W and pillars’ difference for two arbitrary pillars can be calculated by the following equation:


where, p, q denote the different instruments and s, o represent the standard pillar and other observation pillar, respectively. ΔWso is the pillar difference between the standard pillar and other observation pillar, and ΔWpq is the instruments’ difference. As an example, Wqs represents the observation value measured by instrument q installed on pillar s.

As there are a limited number of the pillars, a large number of DIMs, and variable proficiency in the observation techniques of observers, it is difficult to complete the comparison using simultaneous measurement. As modern variometers are rather stable and offer high precision, the baselines are almost constant. Therefore, the comparison is usually achieved by comparing the adopted baseline values. The stability and accuracy of baseline values in one calibration day have been analysed by Zhang (2011), who stated that the baselines were stable during the calibration day from 8:30 to 16:30 local time, and the geomagnetic field activity showed no obvious influence on the accuracy of baseline values. Thus, it is feasible to complete the comparison by comparing baseline values. The equation for computing baseline value for arbitrary component W is given in the INTERMAGNET reference manual (St Louis, 2011) as:


where, (i:j) is the time interval (generally several minutes) for the measurement, (k) is the average time of the interval (i:j), Wo is the observed absolute field value, WR is the minute value recorded by variometer, and WB is the computed baseline value.

In comparison session, the reference level for arbitrary components is usually adopted from the average of all the measurements performed by the participants on the reference pillar. Since absolute measurements were made on different pillars, the baseline values measured on other pillars should be calibrated to the reference pillar for comparison. The usual calibrating method is to add a pillar difference to the results of other pillars. The pillar differences are determined by extensive measurements made prior to the comparison session. The general form of the equation for computing the difference for arbitrary component W is:


where, s and o represent the standard pillar and the other observation pillar, ΔWso is the pillar difference between the standard pillar and other observation pillar, WBS and WBo are the computed baseline values, and ΔWBso is the final difference between two instruments. The fluxgate theodolites from different observatories can be compared in this way, and the quality of the absolute observation data can be evaluated using these results.

3 Results and discussion

Since observatory data first began to be digitized, several comparisons have been performed. Some of the DIM comparison results from GNC and IAGA are analysed here. The quality of the observed data is evaluated and certain problems are identified.

3.1 The comparison results of GNC

Six comparisons have been organized by the GNC. Previously, the comparison is organized every two years following the IAGA’s guide; recently, due to the frequent turnover of staff, it is made every year. They were carried out at Changchun observatory in 2010; at Qianling, Dalian and Shaoyang observatories in 2012; at Qianling observatory in 2014 and 2016; at Urumqi observatory in 2015 and 2017. Most of DIMs from geomagnetic observatories in China have taken part in the comparison. The comparison information is list in Table 1 and the DIM types and observatories are presented in Table 2. The difference between the observation instruments and standard instruments were calculated by comparing with the standard baselines which measured by skilled observer using the standard instruments. Now, all the comparison results are collected together and sorted by DIMs. The difference in declination and inclination are, respectively, displayed in Figures 2 and 3. As shown in Figure 2, the colored dots represent the mean value, the sizes of the dots indicate the standard deviation and the colors represent the different years; the grey dots on the right show the scale of the colored dots. The grey bars, corresponding to the right-hand vertical axis, indicate the standard deviation of the comparison results of each instrument over the six years of comparisons. The right-hand panel shows the frequency distribution of all of these results. The mean and standard deviation of these results over the six years are 0.01′ and 0.15′ for ΔD, –0.02′ and 0.07′ for ΔI, respectively.

Table 1

List of DIM comparisons performed by GNC.

No. Date Year Observatory Instruments Number Elements

1 14–17 September 2010 Changchun 15 ΔD and ΔI
2 10–12 September, 17–19 October, 24–26 October 2012 Qianling, Dalian, Shaoyang 31 ΔD and ΔI
3 21–26 October 2014 Qianling 41 ΔD and ΔI
4 15–20 September 2015 Urumqi 41 ΔD and ΔI
5 21–29 September 2016 Qianling 40 ΔD and ΔI
6 12–20 September 2017 Urumqi 41 ΔD and ΔI

Table 2

List of instrument types and observatories.

No. Instrument Observatory No. Instrument Observatory No. Instrument Observatory

1 Mingeo Beijing 22 Mingeo Lanzhou 42 GEO-DI Taian
2 Mag01 Changli 23 Mag01 Lijiang 43 CTM Taian
3 CTM Changli 24 Mingeo Luoyang 44 Mag01 Tianshui
4 Mingeo Chengdu 25 Mingeo Malingshang 45 Mingeo Tonghai
5 Mag01 Chengdu 26 Mingeo Manzhouli 46 Mingeo Wujiahe
6 Mag01 Chongming 27 CTM Manzhouli 47 Mingeo Urumqi
7 TDJ2E-NM Chongming 28 Mag01 Mengcheng 48 Mingeo Wuhan
8 Mingeo Dalian 29 CTM Mengcheng 49 Mag01 Wuhan
9 Mingeo Dedu 30 Mingeo Qianling 50 CTM Wuhan
10 Mingeo Enshi 31 Mag01 Qianling 51 CTM Xichang
11 Mingeo Golmud 32 CTM Qianling 52 Mag01 Xilinhot
12 Mingeo Guiyang 33 Mag01 Qiemo 53 Mag01 Xiannushan
13 CTM Hangzhou 34 Mingeo Qiongzhong 54 Mingeo Yinchuan
14 Mag01 Hangzhou 35 Mingeo Quanzhou 55 Mingeo Yongning
15 Mag01 Hongshan 36 CTM Quanzhou 56 CTM Yulin
16 TDJ2E-NM Hongshan 37 Mingeo Shaoyang 57 Mingeo Changchun
17 Mingeo Jiayuguan 38 Mingeo Sheshan 58 Mingeo Zhaoqing
18 Mingeo Jinghai 39 Mag01 Shexian 59 Mag01 Zhaoqing
19 Mag01 Jinghai 40 Mingeo Shiquanhe 60 TDJ2E-NM Zhaoqing
20 Mingeo Kashi 41 Mingeo Taiyuan 61 Mag01 Chongqing
21 Mingeo Lhasa
Figure 2 

The difference of the declination of GNC. The balls represent the difference, the size of the balls is the standard deviation, and the scale is on the right. The grey bar, corresponding to the right vertical axis, is the standard deviation of the balls above it. The right panel is the frequency distribution of all of these results.

Figure 3 

The difference of the inclination of GNC. The symbols have same meaning as those in Figure 2.

As shown in Figures 2 and 3, almost all coloured dots are distributed within one standard deviation of the mean. For ΔD and ΔI, 75% and 77% of the comparison results are within this range, respectively. To some extent, the standard deviation represents the quality of absolute observation data of the GNC. To estimate the quality, a value range of 90% of the cumulative probability is considered as the quality level of the GNC in this study. In this way, obviously wrong data can be excluded and the true level of observation quality can be accurately reflected. From Table 3, the value ranges are ±0.24′ for ΔD and ±0.11′ for ΔI. Therefore, the absolute measurement accuracy of the GNC reaches 0.24′ in declination and 0.11′ in inclination. The gray bars in the figures show the standard deviation of the instruments over the six comparison years, revealing the absolute measurement quality level of the observatories at which that instrument is located. The sizes of the dots represent the observation precision of each observer. Figures 2 and 3 show that the absolute measurement quality of most observatories and the observation level of most observers are relatively high.

Table 3

The statistical results of all the comparison data.

Elements Mean (μ) Std. (μ) Percentage (μ ± σ) Value range of 90% (±u) Institution

ΔD 0.01′ 0.15′ 75% ±0.24′ GNC
ΔI –0.02′ 0.07′ 77% ±0.11′ GNC

By comparing Figures 2 and 3, it is clear that the distribution of the coloured dots in Figure 2 is more discrete than that in Figure 3. This indicates that the quality of the inclination observation data is superior to that of declination data. One reason for this difference may be that observers should adjust optical axis to align with the azimuth mark in the declination measurement, but it is difficult to adjust to the exactly same position each time. Thus, the declination measurement is more susceptible to error than the inclination measurement, and more observation errors may be included in declination results.

However, there are some outliers that are significantly beyond the range one standard deviation from the mean. Some of these large values can be traced back to the changes in the instruments themselves. For example, the declination difference of Manzhouli’s instrument was –0.37′ in 2010, as shown by the light green dot (No. 26) in Figure 2. This became 0.39′ in 2012 after maintenance, as displayed by the green dot (No. 26). In 2014, when sensor when was mounted on the top of the theodolite from Jinghai observatory, the difference was 0.40′, as presented by the light blue dot (No. 18). This became –0.38’ in 2016 after maintenance, as shown by blue dot (No. 18). Although the cause of these changes is not clear, it is certain that this is a systematic error, which can be tracked through the course of the comparisons.

Some other instrument problems also can be observed in these results. Because of the limitation of non-magnetic materials, the horizontal axis (the rotation axis of the telescope) and vertical axis (the rotation axis of the alignment part) of the theodolite are not as hard as the other parts. If they were damaged, the measurement accuracy would be reduced. For example, the DIM at Luoyang observatory had some problems on the vertical axis in 2014, meaning that it could not be kept horizontal during measurements. That caused the absolute observation data to be unstable and have a large standard deviation, as shown in light blue dot (No. 24) in Figures 2 and 3. There are other factors that affect the final results. The environment of some observatories in southern China is very humid, so the interior of the theodolite are become mouldy and the reading line of the theodolite can be unclear (e.g. Qiongzhong observatory, No. 34 both in Figures 2 and 3). A bad contact between the sensor and the cable can lead to unstable observation data; looseness of the sensor, resulting in its axial direction not being parallel to the optical axis of the telescope, can reduce the measurement accuracy. All of these problems can be identified through the comparison process and rectified by professionals.

The observation technology used by the observer is another important factor influencing the quality of observation data. In recent years, the staff turnover of observatory has been relatively high. For instance, in the 2015 comparison, nearly 30 percent of observers were novices. As shown in Figure 2, the degree of dispersion of the blue dots in 2015 is obviously greater than that in other years. A lack of systematic training on the principles and methods of observation means that new observer may make some mistakes in the measurement process. For example, when the telescope was not placed exactly on a horizontal plane, the declination errors of instruments No. 7 and No. 53 are –0.66′ and 0.46′, respectively, in 2016, as displayed in Figure 2; following an incorrect observation process, the declination and inclination of No. 60 are 2.37′ and 2.23′ in 2017 respectively, beyond the range shown in the figure.

3.2 The comparison results of IAGA

The international DIM comparison is organized by IAGA Working Group V-OBS, and has completed 18 sessions. Several years of the results, which are available on IAGA website, are collected here. Detailed information about these sessions and the sources of comparison results are shown in Table 4. The comparison results are sorted by country because of a lack of information on instrument types. The country serial numbers are listed in Table 5. The units of the comparison results in some years have been converted from arc second to arc minute. The mean and standard deviation of the difference of each instrument are shown in Figures 4, 5, 6, 7. The symbols in the four figures have the same meaning as those in Figure 2. Additionally, the mean and standard deviation of different elements of all the comparison results in these years are calculated; they are, respectively, 0.00′ and 0.28′ for ΔD, 0.00′ and 0.09′ for ΔI, 0.30 nT and 1.08 nT for ΔH and –0.18 nT and 0.68 nT for ΔZ, as listed in Table 6.

Table 4

List of DIM comparisons performed by IAGA.

No. Date Year Observatory Country Elements Data source

1 15–24 April 2002 Hermanus South Africa ΔD, ΔI, ΔH and ΔZ Loubser, 2002
2 09–12 November 2004 Kakioka Japan ΔD and ΔI Masami et al., 2005
3 19–24 June 2006 Belsk Poland ΔD and ΔI Reda et al., 2007
4 09–18 June 2008 Boulder United States ΔD, ΔH and ΔZ Love et al., 2009
5 13–23 September 2010 Changchun China ΔD and ΔI He et al., 2011
6 05–08 June 2012 San Fernado Spain ΔD, ΔH and ΔZ Hejda et al., 2013

Table 5

The list of the countries.

No. Country No. Country No. Country

1 Algeria 14 France 27 Poland
2 Argentina 15 Germany 28 Romania
3 Australia 16 Hungary 29 Russia
4 Austria 17 India 30 Samoa
5 Belgium 18 Indonesia 31 Slovakia
6 Bulgaria 19 Japan 32 South Africa
7 Canada 20 Kazakhstan 33 South Korea
8 China 21 Macedonia 34 Spain
9 Colombia 22 Maldives 35 Switzerland
10 Croatia 23 Mexico 36 Ukraine
11 Czech Republic 24 Mozambique 37 United Kingdom
12 Denmark 25 Pakistan 38 United States
13 Finland 26 Peru 39 Venezuela
Figure 4 

The difference of the declination of IAGA. The symbols have same meaning as those in Figure 2.

Figure 5 

The difference of the inclination of IAGA. The symbols have same meaning as those in Figure 2.

Figure 6 

The difference of the horizontal intensity of IAGA. The symbols have same meaning as those in Figure 2.

Figure 7 

The difference of the vertical intensity of IAGA. The symbols have same meaning as those in Figure 2.

As shown in Figures 4, 5, 6, 7, most of the coloured dots are distributed within one standard deviation of the mean. The percentage of the data within this range is 87%, 81%, 75% and 78% for ΔD, ΔI, ΔH and ΔZ, respectively. A value of 90% was adopted as the evaluation criterion in this study. The value ranges corresponding to this percentage are ±0.35′, ±0.10′, ±1.9 nT and ±1.1 nT for ΔD, ΔI, ΔH and ΔZ, as given in Table 6. This means that absolute measurements around the world achieve fairly good observational levels. In addition, it can also be found that quality of declination is better than that of inclination in this result. A possible reason for this was discussed in Section 3.1. As depicted in Figure 4, some larger values, with large standard deviations, are obviously beyond the range of one standard deviation from the mean. A lack of sufficient information in the measurement process makes it difficult to investigate the causes. As discussed previously, it may be the result of instrument failure or operational errors. In any case, these results are good indication of the quality level of the observatory’s absolute measurements.

Table 6

Statistical results of all the comparison data.

Elements Mean (μ) Std. (σ) Percentage (μ ± σ) Value range of 90% (±u) Institution

ΔD 0.00′ 0.28′ 87% ±0.35′ IAGA
ΔI 0.00′ 0.09′ 81% ±0.10′ IAGA
ΔH 0.30 nT 1.08 nT 75% ±1.9 nT IAGA
ΔZ –0.18 nT 0.68 nT 78% ±1.1 nT IAGA

4 Conclusions

The observatories of the GNC have been digitalized and equipped with several types of DIMs for taking absolute measurements. Systematic differences are unavoidable between these instruments. Thus, comparisons are necessary to achieve high-quality data, and it is vital to control the data quality and unify the observation standards.

The working status of DIMs, including their precision, accuracy, and linearity, is comprehensively checked during comparison events. Problems with the instruments or operation can be found during the comparisons. However, the operator difference, position errors (the azimuth error caused by inexact positioning), and pillar errors (the error from pillar differences) are included in the final instrument difference (He et al., 2019). To identify these components, detailed inspections are required.

The comparisons are not only a platform for comparing instruments, but also for communication about working experiences. The observers can learn from each other, allowing good practice and methods to be spread and applied and the mistakes to be remedied. Maintenance and repair work can be performed to overcome problems with the instruments. This provides a strong guarantee of the operational status of DIMs and the quality of their observation data.

Several years of results from the DIM comparisons run by GNC and IAGA have been collected. The quality of the absolute observation data was estimated using these results. The absolute measurements of both GNC and IAGA achieve fairly good observational levels. This is helpful for researchers who use these data to understand the current quality level of absolute measurements and for the analysis of their results.


The authors thank all the geomagnetic workers involved in the comparison. It would have been impossible to complete this paper without their hard work.

Funding Information

Supported by National Key R&D program of China (Grant No.2018YFC1503505); Major national projects to develop scientific instruments and equipment (Grant No.2014YQ100817); the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. XDA14040403).

Competing Interests

The authors have no competing interests to declare.


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