US-TEC: A new data assimilation product from the Space Environment Center characterizing the ionospheric total electron content using real-time GPS data



[1] The potential of data assimilation for operational numerical weather forecasting has been appreciated for many years. For space weather it is a new path that we are just beginning to explore. With the emergence of satellite constellations and the networks of ground-based observations, sufficient data sources are now available to make the application of data assimilation techniques a viable option. The first space weather product at Space Environment Center (SEC) utilizing data assimilation techniques, US-TEC, was launched as a test operational product in November 2004. US-TEC characterizes the ionospheric total electron content (TEC) over the continental United States (CONUS) every 15 min with about a 15-min latency. US-TEC is based on a Kalman filter data assimilation scheme driven by a ground-based network of real-time GPS stations. The product includes a map of the vertical TEC, an estimate of the uncertainty in the map, and the departure of the TEC from a 10-day average at that particular universal time. In addition, data files are provided for vertical TEC and the line-of-sight electron content to all GPS satellites in view over the CONUS at that time. The information can be used to improve single-frequency GPS positioning by providing more accurate corrections for the ionospheric signal delay, or it can be used to initialize rapid integer ambiguity resolution schemes for dual-frequency GPS systems. Validation of US-TEC indicates an accuracy of the line-of-sight electron content of between 2 and 3 TEC units (1 TECU = 1016 el m−2), equivalent to less than 50 cm signal delay at L1 frequencies, which promises value for GPS users. This is the first step along a path that will likely lead to major improvement in space weather forecasting, paralleling the advances achieved in meteorological weather forecasting.