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Water surface height determination with a GPS Wave Glider: A demonstration in Loch Ness, Scotland

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Miguel Morales MaquedaORCiD, Dr Nigel Penna, Dr Ian Martin



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


A geodetic GPS receiver has been installed on a Wave Glider, an unmanned water surface vehicle. Using kinematic Precise Point Positioning (PPP) GPS, which operates globally without directly requiring reference stations, surface heights are measured with ~0.05 m precision. The GPS Wave Glider was tested in Loch Ness, Scotland, by measuring the gradient of the loch’s surface height. The experiment took place under mild weather, with virtually no wind setup along the loch and a wave field made mostly of ripples and wavelets. Under these conditions, the loch’s surface height gradient should be approximately equal to the geoid slope. The PPP surface height gradient and that of the Earth Gravitational Model 2008 geoid heights do indeed agree on average along the loch (0.03 m/km). We also detect (1) ~0.05-m-sized height changes due to daily water pumping for hydroelectricity generation and (2) high-frequency (0.25-0.5 Hz) oscillations caused by surface waves. The PPP heights compare favourably (~0.02 m standard deviation) with relative carrier phase based GPS processing. This suggests that GPS Wave Gliders have the potential to autonomously determine centimeter-precise water surface heights globally for lake modeling, and also for applications such as ocean modeling and geoid/mean dynamic topography determination, at least for benign surface states such as those encountered during the reported experiment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Morales Maqueda MA, Penna NT, Williams SDP, Foden PR, Martin I, Pugh J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology

Year: 2016

Volume: 33

Issue: 6

Pages: 1159-1168

Print publication date: 01/06/2016

Online publication date: 27/05/2016

Acceptance date: 13/11/2015

Date deposited: 03/06/2016

ISSN (print): 0739-0572

ISSN (electronic): 1520-0426

Publisher: American Meteorological Society


DOI: 10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0162.1


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Funder referenceFunder name
NE/K005944/1Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
NE/K005421/1Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)