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Forecasting Rain More Accurately with GPS-based System

Scientists are using Global Positioning System (GPS) signals in order to measure air moisture for better weather predictions.

According to a recent press release, the collaboration of RMIT University, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has harnessed the growing network of receivers in order to provide more accurate and real time weather forecasts.

Known as the zenith total delay, moisture in the troposphere can cause a slight delay in the journey of GPS signals from satellites to Earth.

However, scientists now know how to use precise measurements of this delay so that they can accurately calculate air moisture and likely rainfall.

GPS-based System Rain Forecasting

  • The method is now a part of BoM’s weather forecast models following successful trials across Australia.
  • RMIT Adjunct Professor and BoM Senior Principal Research Scientist, John Le Marshall, shared that it was an exciting new capability for real-time weather measurements and forecasting.
  • He explained that atmospheric water vapour is highly variable yet vital to accurate analysis and weather forecasting.
  • The development of a GPS-based system to improve moisture analysis and forecasting over Australia is therefore an exciting step towards improved humidity and rainfall forecasting.
  • GPS is proving increasingly useful to meteorologists, with another completed project using the bending of GPS signals through the atmosphere to determine temperature at various altitudes.
  • Although the technology could be applied almost anywhere, it was particularly valuable in a sparsely populated country like Australia because of its lack of ground-based meteorological observation stations.
  • Weather forecasting is dependent on accurate atmospheric observations, but the limited stations that can draw measurements across the vast continent have always been an issue.
  • Having this technology allowed them to tap into an Australia-wide network of 256 GPS receiving stations and that number of stations is set to continue increasing over the coming years.

Who are Involved?

  • Study co-author from the University’s School of Science, Dr Robert Norman, said the decade-long collaboration between RMIT and BoM had massive value for both partners.
  • Working closely with an end user like BoM has enabled the university to apply its world-leading research in this field to solve real-world problems.
  • More importantly, the improvement in BoM weather forecasting benefits Australian industry and the wider community as well.
  • Geoscience Australia is the country’s pre-eminent public sector geoscience organisation. They serve as the nation’s trusted advisor on the geology and geography of Australia, applying science and technology (S&T) to describe and understand the Earth for the benefit of the country.
  • The Bureau of Meteorology, meanwhile, is Australia’s national weather, climate and water agency. Its expertise and services assist Australians in dealing with the harsh realities of their natural environment, including drought, floods, fires, storms, tsunami and tropical cyclones.
  • Through regular forecasts, warnings, monitoring and advice spanning the Australian region and Antarctic territory, the Bureau provides one of the most fundamental and widely used services of government.
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