The impact of relative and absolute GNSS positioning strategies on estimated coordinates and ZWD in the framework of meteorological applications


Since many years, the GNSS has been regarded by the meteorological community as one of the systems for atmospheric water vapour remote sensing. Time series of wet delays, estimated as by-products of accurate positioning, have been assimilated into numerical weather prediction models. However, a dedicated use the system for water vapour monitoring is still under investigation. Ad hoc dense networks have been designed and implemented to collect data at a high spatial resolution, baseline lengths lower than 10 km, with the aim of describing the high spatial and temporal variability of tropospheric water vapour. Within this framework, the paper reports a study on how the positioning strategy affects the estimated coordinates and tropospheric parameters. The study was conducted on the data collected by an experimental network of geodetic receivers, used as single or dual frequency ones. More specifically, investigations were made on the use of L1-only or iono-free combinations in differential positioning of receivers 100 to 10 km apart, finding that L1-only data provide more accurate results. Therefore, comparisons between local coordinates and ZWD obtained from relative and absolute positioning were performed to provide the statistics of the differences; the agreement between the results for short baselines is always better than 1 cm standard deviation. In order to assess the differences in the results that can be obtained from the two strategies when applied to the same observation set, a further comparison was carried out in terms of baseline components and ZWD increments. It results that, even for dense networks, the differential approach produces accurate results without losing information compared to the absolute one.

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atmospheric phase screen


Center for Orbit Determination in Europe


double difference


global ionosphere maps


Global Navigation Satellite Systems


Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar


integrated water vapour


numerical weather prediction models


phase center variation


permanent network


precise point positioning


precipitable water vapour


water vapour radiometer


zenith total delay


zenith wet delay


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The authors acknowledge Dr. Grazia Visconti and Prof. Ludovico Biagi who collected and firstly analysed the data and Leica Geosystem Italy for providing the GNSS stations for the MisT experiment. We thank Dr. Daniele Sampietro for his suggestions in the results analysis and the anonymous referees for their important comments on the manuscript that allowed us to improve it significantly.

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AF, ER and GV designed the study, developed the methodology, collected the data, performed the analysis, and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giovanna Venuti.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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AF, PhD in mathematics, PhD in Geodesy and Geomatics at Politecnico di Milano, is currently working as research fellow for the Italian National Research Council, CNR - IEIIT. ER, PhD in Geodesy and Geomatics, is working for Geomatics Research & Development srl (GReD), spin-off of Politecnico di Milano. GV is Associate Professor in Geospatial data analysis and responsible for the Geomatics and Earth observation laboratory (GEOlab) at Politecnico di Milano .

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Fermi, A., Realini, E. & Venuti, G. The impact of relative and absolute GNSS positioning strategies on estimated coordinates and ZWD in the framework of meteorological applications. Appl Geomat 11, 25–38 (2019).

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  • GNSS meteorology
  • Tropospheric delays
  • Hyper-dense GNSS network
  • Relative positioning
  • Absolute positioning