GPS meteorology: Remote sensing of atmospheric water vapor using the global positioning system


  • Michael Bevis,

  • Steven Businger,

  • Thomas A. Herring,

  • Christian Rocken,

  • Richard A. Anthes,

  • Randolph H. Ware


We present a new approach to remote sensing of water vapor based on the global positioning system (GPS). Geodesists and geophysicists have devised methods for estimating the extent to which signals propagating from GPS satellites to ground-based GPS receivers are delayed by atmospheric water vapor. This delay is parameterized in terms of a time-varying zenith wet delay (ZWD) which is retrieved by stochastic filtering of the GPS data. Given surface temperature and pressure readings at the GPS receiver, the retrieved ZWD can be transformed with very little additional uncertainty into an estimate of the integrated water vapor (IWV) overlying that receiver. Networks of continuously operating GPS receivers are being constructed by geodesists, geophysicists, government and military agencies, and others in order to implement a wide range of positioning capabilities. These emerging GPS networks offer the possibility of observing the horizontal distribution of IWV or, equivalently, precipitable water with unprecedented coverage and a temporal resolution of the order of 10 min. These measurements could be utilized in operational weather forecasting and in fundamental research into atmospheric storm systems, the hydrologic cycle, atmospheric chemistry, and global climate change. Specially designed, dense GPS networks could be used to sense the vertical distribution of water vapor in their immediate vicinity. Data from ground-based GPS networks could be analyzed in concert with observations of GPS satellite occultations by GPS receivers in low Earth orbit to characterize the atmosphere at planetary scale.