Accuracy of absolute precipitable water vapor estimates from GPS observations


  • Paul Tregoning,

  • Reinout Boers,

  • Denis O'Brien,

  • Martin Hendy


We present GPS, radiosonde and microwave radiometer (MWR) estimates of precipitable water vapor (PW) at Cape Grim, Tasmania, during November and December 1995. The rms differences between GPS and radiosonde, MWR and radiosonde and GPS and MWR estimates of PW were 1.5 mm, 1.3 mm and 1.4 mm, respectively, whilst the biases between the three systems were ∼0.2 mm. However, there are occasions when the amount of PW was underestimated by GPS whilst at other times was over-estimated by MWR. The average overlap error of the GPS estimates of PW between adjacent daily solutions is related to the orbit overlap error and we removed a 2 mm bias introduced using International GPS Service orbits by estimating more accurate global orbits. The discrepancies of up to 3–4 mm between the MWR and GPS systems are not caused by rain, waveguide losses, varying waveguide temperature, detector non-linearity or inaccurate estimates of the mean radiating temperature of the atmosphere. However, small differences between mapping functions at low elevations can produce biases comparable with the bias between the two systems. Consequently, we suspect that the biases arise because the mapping functions do not represent the localized atmospheric conditions at Cape Grim. The most accurate GPS estimates are achieved when the GPS analysis contains station separations of more than 2000 km, an elevation cutoff angle of 12° is used and the CFA2.2 wet mapping function is used to map the wet delay at any angle to the delay in the zenith.