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Fall 1997

GPS receivers on campus

Global positioning system (GPS) receivers have proven their usefulness to researchers in many of the earth sciences, engineering, and other disciplines. Soon, they may be available to college students as well. A new UCAR effort is planning an inexpensive way to put GPS receivers on scores of U.S. campuses.

David Fulker, director of Unidata, is looking for university commitments to house the receivers. He hopes for a network of about 100 units--"the kind of nationwide coverage that will yield truly substantial new information." With the commitments in hand, Fulker will present a request for funding to NSF next February.

The idea, which is the brainchild of Fulker and Randolph Ware (University Navstar Consortium, or UNAVCO), is a win/win proposition: students at participating universities would gain valuable educational tools in both the receivers themselves and the data from the network of receivers, and research scientists would gain a new earth and atmospheric monitoring network. This network has been dubbed SuomiNet in honor of the late Verner Suomi, who in his final years was enthusiastic about the potential for GPS meteorological measurements.

UNAVCO would supervise the purchase of the receivers, which would be funded by NSF's Major Research Initiative (MRI) program. The group purchase would allow UNAVCO to negotiate a reduced rate per receiver. Universities would be able to obtain the equipment at a fraction of its total cost as a result of cost-matching through MRI funds. "These are not cheap systems," Fulker notes; the regular price would be $12,000 for the receiver alone.

Once the receivers were in place, Unidata would provide nationwide data collection and near-real-time distribution through its Internet Data Distribution system. UNAVCO would provide various GPS-derived data products, such as precipitable water, for distribution by Unidata. Fulker believes the receivers would attract other instrumentation to campus and thus grow into multiple-application and multidisciplinary observing systems.

Besides the university participants, Fulker has received responses from several scientific programs that could use the data, particularly the measurements of precipitable water vapor. Among them:

These interests revolve around only one of the network's uses, Fulker noted. Other applications will evolve as the program advances.

Steven Chiswell of Unidata is managing the start-up effort. He is currently polling university interest and beginning to create a basic science and education program for the network. Some 20 colleges and universities have already responded. The respondents have mentioned that they would use the receivers not only in the expected fields of geology, geography, atmospheric science, and civil engineering, but in such far-flung areas as biology, construction, and toxicology.

For further information about SuomiNet, contact Chiswell (303-497-8641 or chiz@ucar.edu) or visit the project's Web site.

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
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Last revised: Tue Apr 4 14:38:45 MDT 2000