This paper provides an overview of applications of the Global Positioning System (GPS) for active measurement of the Earth's atmosphere. Microwave radio signals transmitted by GPS satellites are delayed (refracted) by the atmosphere as they propagate to Earth-based GPS receivers or GPS receivers carried on low Earth orbit satellites.
The delay in GPS signals reaching Earth-based receivers due to the presence of water vapor is nearly proportional to the quantity of water vapor integrated along the signal path. Measurement of atmospheric water vapor by Earth-based GPS receivers was demonstrated during the GPS/STORM field project to be comparable and in some respects superior to measurements by ground-based water vapor radiometers. Increased spatial and temporal resolution of the water vapor distribution provided by the GPS/STORM network proved useful in monitoring the moisture-flux convergence along a dryline and the decrease in integrated water vapor associated with the passage of a midtropospheric cold front, both of which triggered severe weather over the area during the course of the experiment.
Given the rapid growth in regional networks of continuously operating Earth-based GPS receivers currently being implemented, an opportunity exists to observe the distribution of water vapor with increased spatial and temporal coverage, which could prove valuable in a range of operational and research applications in the atmospheric sciences.
The first space-based GPS receiver designed for sensing the Earth's atmosphere was launched in April 1995. Phase measurements of GPS signals as they are occluded by the atmosphere provide refractivity profiles (see the companion article by Ware et al. on page 19 of this issue). Water vapor limits the accuracy of temperature recovery below the tropopause because of uncertainty in the water vapor distribution. The sensitivity of atmospheric refractivity to water vapor pressure, however, means that refractivity profiles can in principle yield information on the atmospheric humidity distribution given independent information on the temperature and pressure distribution from NWP models or independent observational data.
A discussion is provided of some of the research opportunities that exist to capitalize on the complementary nature of the methods of active atmospheric monitoring by GPS and other observation systems for use in weather and climate studies and in numerical weather prediction models.
*Department of Meteorology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii.
+University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.
#University Navstar Consortium (UNAVCO), Boulder, Colorado.