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Steven Businger, Steven R. Chiswell, Michael Bevis, Jingping Duan, Richard A. Anthes, Christian Rocken, Randolph H. Ware, Michael Exner, T. VanHove, and Fredrick S. Solheim

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.

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Jingping Duan, Michael Bevis, Peng Fang, Yehuda Bock, Steven Chiswell, Steven Businger, Christian Rocken, Frederick Solheim, Terasa van Hove, Randolph Ware, Simon McClusky, Thomas A. Herring, and Robert W. King

Abstract

A simple approach to estimating vertically integrated atmospheric water vapor, or precipitable water, from Global Positioning System (GPS) radio signals collected by a regional network of ground-based geodetic GPS receiver is illustrated and validated. Standard space geodetic methods are used to estimate the zenith delay caused by the neutral atmosphere, and surface pressure measurements are used to compute the hydrostatic (or “dry”) component of this delay. The zenith hydrostatic delay is subtracted from the zenith neutral delay to determine the zenith wet delay, which is then transformed into an estimate of precipitable water. By incorporating a few remote global tracking stations (and thus long baselines) into the geodetic analysis of a regional GPS network, it is possible to resolve the absolute (not merely the relative) value of the zenith neutral delay at each station in the augmented network. This approach eliminates any need for external comparisons with water vapor radiometer observations and delivers a pure GPS solution for precipitable water. Since the neutral delay is decomposed into its hydrostatic and wet components after the geodetic inversion, the geodetic analysis is not complicated by the fact that some GPS stations are equipped with barometers and some are not. This approach is taken to reduce observations collected in the field experiment GPS/STORM and recover precipitable water with an rms error of 1.0–1.5 mm.

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