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David R. Brooks, Forrest M. Mims III, and Richard Roettger


An inexpensive two-channel near-IR sun photometer for measuring total atmospheric column water vapor (precipitable water) has been developed for use by the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) environmental science and education program and other nonspecialists. This instrument detects sunlight in the 940-nm water vapor absorption band with a filtered photodiode and at 825 nm with a near-IR light-emitting diode (LED). The ratio of outputs of these two detectors is related to total column water vapor in the atmosphere. Reference instruments can be calibrated against column atmospheric water vapor data derived from delays in radio signals received at global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver sites and other independent sources. For additional instruments that are optically and physically identical to reference instruments, a single-parameter calibration can be determined by making simultaneous measurements with a reference instrument and forcing the derived precipitable water values to agree. Although the concept of near-IR detection of precipitable water is not new, this paper describes a first attempt at developing a protocol for calibrating large numbers of inexpensive instruments suitable for use by teachers, students, and other nonspecialists.

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