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Alexander E. MacDonald, Yuanfu Xie, and Randolph H. Ware


In recent years techniques have been developed to obtain integrated water vapor along slant paths between ground-based Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and the GPS satellites. Results are presented of an observing system simulation (OSS) to determine whether three-dimensional water vapor fields could be recovered from a high-resolution network (e.g., with 40-km spacing) of GPS receivers, in combination with surface moisture observations and a limited number of moisture soundings. The paper describes a three-dimensional variational analysis (3DVAR) that recovers the moisture field from the slant integrated water vapor and other observations. Comparisons between “nature” moisture fields taken from mesoscale models and fields recovered using 3DVAR are presented. It is concluded that a high-resolution network of GPS receivers may allow diagnosis of three-dimensional water vapor, with applications for both positioning and mesoscale weather prediction.

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Michael Bevis, Steven Businger, Steven Chiswell, Thomas A. Herring, Richard A. Anthes, Christian Rocken, and Randolph H. Ware


Emerging networks of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers can be used in the remote sensing of atmospheric water vapor. The time-varying zenith wet delay observed at each GPS receiver in a network can be transformed into an estimate of the precipitable water overlying that receiver. This transformation is achieved by multiplying the zenith wet delay by a factor whose magnitude is a function of certain constants related to the refractivity of moist air and of the weighted mean temperature of the atmosphere. The mean temperature varies in space and time and must be estimated a priori in order to transform an observed zenith wet delay into an estimate of precipitable water. We show that the relative error introduced during this transformation closely approximates the relative error in the predicted mean temperature. Numerical weather models can be used to predict the mean temperature with an rms relative error of less than 1%.

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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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Randolph H. Ware, David W. Fulker, Seth A. Stein, David N. Anderson, Susan K. Avery, Richard D. Clark, Kelvin K. Droegemeier, Joachim P. Kuettner, J. Bernard Minster, and Soroosh Sorooshian

“SuomiNet,” a university-based, real-time, national Global Positioning System (GPS) network, is being developed for atmospheric research and education with funding from the National Science Foundation and with cost share from collaborating universities. The network, named to honor meteorological satellite pioneer Verner Suomi, will exploit the recently shown ability of ground-based GPS receivers to make thousands of accurate upper- and lower-atmospheric measurements per day. Phase delays induced in GPS signals by the ionosphere and neutral atmosphere can be measured with high precision simultaneously along a dozen or so GPS ray paths in the field of view. These delays can be converted into integrated water vapor (if surface pressure data or estimates are available) and total electron content (TEC), along each GPS ray path. The resulting continuous, accurate, all-weather, real-time GPS moisture data will help advance university research in mesoscale modeling and data assimilation, severe weather, precipitation, cloud dynamics, regional climate, and hydrology. Similarly, continuous, accurate, all-weather, real-time TEC data have applications in modeling and prediction of severe terrestrial and space weather, detection and forecasting of low-altitude ionospheric scintillation activity and geomagnetic storm effects at ionospheric midlatitudes, and detection of ionospheric effects induced by a variety of geophysical events. SuomiNet data also have potential applications in coastal meteorology, providing ground truth for satellite radiometry, and detection of scintillation associated with atmospheric turbulence in the lower troposphere. The goal of SuomiNet is to make large amounts of spatially and temporally dense GPS-sensed atmospheric data widely available in real time, for academic research and education. Information on participation in SuomiNet is available via

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