Washington: A new airborne technology holds promise to improve weather models and hurricane forecasting by detecting precise conditions in the atmosphere through a new GPS system aboard airplanes.
Led by a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego, the novel technology can be implemented on commercial aircraft in the near future.
Current measurement systems that use GPS satellite signals as a source to probe the atmosphere rely on GPS receivers that are fixed to ground and can not measure over the ocean.
They heavily rely on GPS receivers on satellites that are expensive to launch and only occasionally measure in regions near storms.
The new system, led by geophysicist Jennifer Haase and her colleagues captures, detailed meteorological readings at different elevations at targeted areas of interest – such as over the Atlantic Ocean in regions where hurricanes might develop.
“This field campaign demonstrated the potential for creating an entirely new operational atmospheric observing system for precise moisture profiling from commercial aircraft,” said Haase.
Having dense, detailed information about the vertical moisture distribution close to the storms is an important advancement, so if you put this information into a weather model it would actually have an impact and improve the forecast, she added.
Satellite-based measurements are now regularly used for weather forecasting and have a big impact, but airplanes can go beyond satellites in making observations that are targeted right where you want them.
“This is another case where the effective use of GPS has the potential to improve the forecast and therefore save lives,” noted Richard Anthes, president emeritus of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
The university currently runs the satellite-based GPS measurements system called COSMIC (Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate).
While the current design occupies a refrigerator’s worth of space, Haase and her colleagues are working to miniaturise the technology to shoe box size.
From there, the system can more feasibly fit onto commercial aircraft, with hundreds of daily flights and a potential flood of new atmospheric data to greatly improve hurricane forecasting and weather models.
The technology also could improve interpretation of long-term climate models by advancing scientists’ understanding of factors such as the moisture conditions that are favourable for hurricane development.
“These are exciting results, especially given the complications involved in working from an airplane,” said Eric DeWeaver, program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) division of atmospheric and geospace sciences.
The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.