Articles | Volume 8, issue 7
Research article
29 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 29 Jul 2015

Quantifying residual ionospheric errors in GNSS radio occultation bending angles based on ensembles of profiles from end-to-end simulations

C. L. Liu, G. Kirchengast, K. Zhang, R. Norman, Y. Li, S. C. Zhang, J. Fritzer, M. Schwaerz, S. Q. Wu, and Z. X. Tan

Abstract. The radio occultation (RO) technique using signals from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), in particular from the Global Positioning System (GPS) so far, is currently widely used to observe the atmosphere for applications such as numerical weather prediction and global climate monitoring. The ionosphere is a major error source in RO measurements at stratospheric altitudes, and a linear ionospheric correction of dual-frequency RO bending angles is commonly used to remove the first-order ionospheric effect. However, the residual ionospheric error (RIE) can still be significant so that it needs to be further mitigated for high-accuracy applications, especially above about 30 km altitude where the RIE is most relevant compared to the magnitude of the neutral atmospheric bending angle. Quantification and careful analyses for better understanding of the RIE is therefore important for enabling benchmark-quality stratospheric RO retrievals. Here we present such an analysis of bending angle RIEs covering the stratosphere and mesosphere, using quasi-realistic end-to-end simulations for a full-day ensemble of RO events. Based on the ensemble simulations we assessed the variation of bending angle RIEs, both biases and standard deviations, with solar activity, latitudinal region and with or without the assumption of ionospheric spherical symmetry and co-existing observing system errors. We find that the bending angle RIE biases in the upper stratosphere and mesosphere, and in all latitudinal zones from low to high latitudes, have a clear negative tendency and a magnitude increasing with solar activity, which is in line with recent empirical studies based on real RO data although we find smaller bias magnitudes, deserving further study in the future. The maximum RIE biases are found at low latitudes during daytime, where they amount to within −0.03 to −0.05 μrad, the smallest at high latitudes (0 to −0.01 μrad; quiet space weather and winter conditions). Ionospheric spherical symmetry or asymmetries about the RO event location have only a minor influence on RIE biases. The RIE standard deviations are markedly increased both by ionospheric asymmetries and increasing solar activity and amount to about 0.3 to 0.7 μrad in the upper stratosphere and mesosphere. Taking also into account the realistic observation errors of a modern RO receiving system, amounting globally to about 0.4 μrad (unbiased; standard deviation), shows that the random RIEs are typically comparable to the total observing system error. The results help to inform future RIE mitigation schemes that will improve upon the use of the linear ionospheric correction of bending angles and also provide explicit uncertainty estimates.