Research at RMIT using four-dimensional GPS modelling to measure water vapour could improve predictions of severe weather, potentially reducing the impact of natural disasters.
Although it is known that the dynamics of water vapour has a crucial effect on the formation and lifecycle of severe weather, the phenomenon is not well understood.
The research is significantly important for Australia and the southern hemisphere where other meteorological sensors are limited.
Dr Toby Manning, from the RMIT SPACE Research Centre, investigated the use of continuously operating ground-based networks and space-borne GPS systems to reconstruct the 4D dynamics of water vapour in the atmosphere over time.
"When introduced into numerical weather prediction models, this research has the ability to increase the accuracy of our severe weather prediction and improve our understanding of the role water vapour plays in climate studies," Dr Manning said.
"Time is critical in disaster and emergency management and knowing more quickly and more accurately when a severe storm is due to hit will help authorities and the community plan and prepare."
Water vapour significantly influences many weather and climate processes such as cloud formation, water redistribution and temperature control in the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere. This correlates to the formation and lifecycle of severe storm and precipitation systems.
GPS tomographic modelling has the potential to use the dense ground-based infrastructure in Australia to sense the movement of water vapour over space and time – a major leap forward in the innovative use of advanced Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology.
By reconstructing and examining 4D models of water vapour, Dr Manning was able to analyse their components and gain a better understanding of the key triggers in severe weather formation.
The long-term goal is for the research to serve as a catalyst for the development of ground-based and space-borne GPS observation platforms for better understanding the processes of the atmosphere in the context of weather prediction and climate change.
Supervised by Professor Kefei Zhang and Dr David Silcock, the research has also broadly contributed to the RMIT SPACE Research Centre's leading study in GPS radio occultation, which aims to provide Australia with space-based technology platforms suitable for generating a world-class high-resolution analysis of climate conditions.
SPACE/RMIT GPS radio occultation for innovative weather application research was a finalist for the 2014 Australian Innovation Challenge Award in the category of ICT.