This paper presents a method for approximating spherical functions from discrete data of a block-wise grid structure. The essential ingredients of the approach are scaling and wavelet functions within a biorthogonalisation process generated by locally supported zonal kernel functions. In consequence, geophysically and geodetically relevant problems involving rotation-invariant pseudodifferential operators become attackable. A multiresolution analysis is formulated enabling a fast wavelet transform similar to the algorithms known from one-dimensional Euclidean theory.
A new class of locally supported radial basis functions on the (unit) sphere is introduced by forming an infinite number of convolutions of ''isotropic finite elements''. The resulting up functions show useful properties: They are locally supported and are infinitely often differentiable. The main properties of these kernels are studied in detail. In particular, the development of a multiresolution analysis within the reference space of square--integrable functions over the sphere is given. Altogether, the paper presents a mathematically significant and numerically efficient introduction to multiscale approximation by locally supported radial basis functions on the sphere.