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Distorted GPS signals can help predict hurricane speeds

by GPS4US 2013-07-16 18:23
Harsh weather may be an annoyance to GPS users when signals become distorted, but scientists have recently found a way to use those distortions to measure the force of hurricane winds, according to the journal Radio Science.

The findings come in GPS wave reactions in large bodies of water. GPS satellites constantly emit radio waves toward Earth. When those waves hit a body of water, about 60 percent of the signal is reflected toward the sky. During high winds, the waves reflect the signals in all different directions.

"As the surface gets rougher, the reflections get more disturbed and that's what we measure," retired NASA researcher Stephen Katzberg, the lead author of the study, told

"A computer compares signals coming directly from satellites above with the reflections from the sea below and calculates an approximate wind speed with better than 5 meters per second (about 11 miles per hour) accuracy," the American Geophysical Union said in a press release. "The wind speed of a mid-range, Category 3 hurricane, for comparison, is about 55 meters per second (123 miles per hour)."

Scientists began tracking the method in 1996, and this new method could prove less expensive than current methods, and the low cost means researchers can continuously collect data.

Currently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses the technique in its storm hunting planes. In 2016, NASA will launch the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), eight microsatellites with GPS signals to constantly monitor global ocean surface wind speed.

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