Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Kristine M. Larson

Second Advisor

Dennis Akos

Third Advisor

George Born

Fourth Advisor

Eric Tilton

Fifth Advisor

Mark Williams


Snowpacks provide reservoirs of freshwater, storing solid precipitation and delaying runoff to be released later in the spring and summer when it is most needed. The goal of this dissertation is to develop the technique of GPS multipath reflectometry (GPS-MR) for ground-based measurement of snow depth. The phenomenon of multipath in GPS constitutes the reception of reflected signals in conjunction with the direct signal from a satellite. As these coherent direct and reflected signals go in and out of phase, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) exhibits peaks and troughs that can be related to land surface characteristics. In contrast to other GPS reflectometry modes, in GPS-MR the poorly separated composite signal is collected utilizing a single antenna and correlated against a single replica. SNR observations derived from the newer L2-frequency civilian GPS signal (L2C) are used, as recorded by commercial off-the-shelf receivers and geodetic-quality antennas in existing GPS sites. I developed a forward/inverse approach for modeling GPS multipath present in SNR observations. The model here is unique in that it capitalizes on known information about the antenna response and the physics of surface scattering to aid in retrieving the unknown snow conditions in the antenna surroundings. This physically-based forward model is utilized to simulate the surface and antenna coupling. The statistically-rigorous inverse model is considered in two parts. Part I (theory) explains how the snow characteristics are parameterized; the observation/parameter sensitivity; inversion errors; and parameter uncertainty, which serves to indicate the sensing footprint where the reflection originates. Part II (practice) applies the multipath model to SNR observations and validates the resulting GPS retrievals against independent in situ measurements during a 1-3 year period in three different environments - grasslands, alpine, and forested. The assessment yields a correlation of 0.98 and an RMS error of 6-8 cm, with the GPS under-estimating in situ snow depth by approximately 15%. GPS daily site averages were found effective in mitigating random noise without unduly smoothing the sharp transitions as captured in new snow events. This work corroborates the readiness of quality-controlled GPS-MR for snow depth monitoring, reinforcing its maturity for operational usage.