Newly available GPS data helps scientists better understand ionosphere

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth approximately 11,000 miles in space. The GPS satellites in this animation are not drawn to scale. However, their orbits and orientation to the Earth are approximately correct. GPS satellites are organized into six different orbital paths completely covering the Earth. Looking at the Earth top down from the North Pole, the six orbits are spaced at 60-degree intervals. Looking at the Earth from the equator, each orbit is moderately tilted at 50 degrees.
Credit: NOAA

New information could help improve the reliability of communications.

A new data source to help scientists better understand the ionosphere and its potential impact on communications and positioning, navigation, and timing—an essential utility for many critical operations—is now available to the public. The data, which was collected by sensors on GPS satellites in 2018, was released todaythrough a collaborative effort by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Radio signals from satellite or ground-based transmitters can travel through the ionosphere or bounce off of it, so ionospheric conditions have the potential to disrupt communications depending on the density of electrons,” said Erin Lay, a remote-sensing scientist at Los Alamos who was a technical lead on the project. “This new set of data will help us better model and predict the behavior of the ionosphere and possibly improve the reliability of our communications and positioning, navigation, and timing services, which are critical for both everyday life and national security.”

The ionosphere is the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, stretching approximately 40 to over 250 miles above Earth’s surface. It is composed of tenuous atmosphere and charged particles (ions and electrons) that interact with traversing radio waves. The behavior of the ionosphere reacts to weather on Earth, such as thunderstorms, wind, and hurricanes, as well as space weather created by solar winds impacting Earth’s magnetic field.

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) serves a huge customer base interested in space weather effects on communications and GPS-reliant technologies,” said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at SWPC. “We expect access to these Los Alamos data sets to improve the development, validation, and testing of models used at SWPC for characterizing and forecasting ionospheric disturbances.”

The new data comes from unique measurements of lightning events, each of which produces a flash of radio waves that gets dispersed through the ionosphere before it is detected on satellite receivers. Each measured flash provides a snapshot of the ionospheric conditions at that instant, and many lightning measurements accumulated over time provide a unique view of ionospheric weather. This is the first-ever global set of ionospheric electron density data to use a naturally occurring source phenomena.

Prior to this release, the data available to feed ionosphere models was primarily from arrays of ground-based receivers, which are limited because they only monitor fixed locations. According to Lay, “the new data is gathered from lightning that happens all over the world and will give scientists the opportunity to study the ionosphere in ways previously not possible.”

The release of underutilized data sets was a priority established in the 2019 National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. Los Alamos processed the data from its radio-frequency sensors that are onboard GPS satellites and used for nuclear treaty monitoring, and then worked with a government interagency group, called the Space Weather Operations, Research, and Mitigation (SWORM), to facilitate public release. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information will host the data on existing sites that serve terrestrial weather and space weather resources.

Link to data: https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/archive/accession/0241206

About Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.
LA-UR-21-29119

Media Contact

Laura Mullane
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
mullane@lanl.gov
Office: 505-667-6012

Media Contact

Laura Mullane
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

All latest news from the category: Information Technology

Here you can find a summary of innovations in the fields of information and data processing and up-to-date developments on IT equipment and hardware.

This area covers topics such as IT services, IT architectures, IT management and telecommunications.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

Under arrest: Using nanofibers to stop brain tumor cells from spreading

Researchers from Japan develop a platform based on nanofibers to trap brain cancer cells as a therapeutic strategy. Our body heals its injuries by essentially replacing damaged cells with new…

New photonic chip for isolating light may be key to miniaturizing quantum devices

Light offers an irreplaceable way to interact with our universe. It can travel across galactic distances and collide with our atmosphere, creating a shower of particles that tell a story…

A traffic light for light-on-a-chip

Integrated photonics allow us to build compact, portable, low-power chip-scale optical systems used in commercial products, revolutionizing today’s optical datacenters and communications. But integrating on-chip optical gain elements to build…

Partners & Sponsors