The impact of large scale ionospheric structure on radio occultation retrievals
Abstract. We study the impact of large-scale ionospheric structure on the accuracy of radio occultation (RO) retrievals. We use a climatological model of the ionosphere as well as an ionospheric data assimilation model to compare quiet and geomagnetically disturbed conditions. The presence of ionospheric electron density gradients during disturbed conditions increases the physical separation of the two GPS frequencies as the GPS signal traverses the ionosphere and atmosphere. We analyze this effect in detail using ray-tracing and a full geophysical retrieval system. During quiet conditions, our results are similar to previously published studies. The impact of a major ionospheric storm is analyzed using data from the 30 October 2003 "Halloween" superstorm period. At 40 km altitude, the refractivity bias under disturbed conditions is approximately three times larger than quiet time. These results suggest the need for ionospheric monitoring as part of an RO-based climate observation strategy. We find that even during quiet conditions, the magnitude of retrieval bias depends critically on assumed ionospheric electron density structure, which may explain variations in previously published bias estimates that use a variety of assumptions regarding large scale ionospheric structure. We quantify the impact of spacecraft orbit altitude on the magnitude of bending angle and retrieval error. Satellites in higher altitude orbits (700+ km) tend to have lower residual biases due to the tendency of the residual bending to cancel between the top and bottomside ionosphere. Another factor affecting accuracy is the commonly-used assumption that refractive index is unity at the receiver. We conclude with remarks on the implications of this study for long-term climate monitoring using RO.