Image credit: Mike-wise/Flickr
The same thing that limits the accuracy of your GPS unit to within a few meters also prevents meteorologists from making precise weather predictions. Atmospheric water vapor interferes with radio signals as they are sent from GPS satellites and this same vapor scrambles weather radar, making certain things like storm predictions very difficult.
One researcher believes that by creating a map of atmospheric water vapor, some of this interference could be accounted for, leading to much more accurate weather forecasts.Roderik Lindenbergh, a researcher at Delft University of Technology, is using the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) to develop a more complete understanding of the placement of water vapor in the atmosphere. MERIS is one of the key instruments aboard the European Space Agency's Environmental Satellite.
By combining this data with less accurate but more up-to-date information acquired by GPS ground stations, Lindenbergh hopes to create a map that might be useful for other analysis. He commented that "this is the first time we have mapped the distribution of water vapor from two perspectives: from the ground and from space." He went on to explain:
We are unable to see exactly how much water vapor there is at any particular height, but it is better to know just a little than nothing at all.
The data will help more than just meteorologists and disoriented drivers; Lindenbergh believes that climate scientists will be able to use the system to track greenhouse gasses and other atmospheric processes.
Read more about water vapor:
Fighting Water Scarcity with GPS
Decreased Water Vapor in Atmosphere Slowed Last Decade's Warming
NASA Animates Breakthroughs in Greenhouse Gas Research with New Tool (Video)