Published: Aug. 18, 2017
Kristine Larson with a GPS device.

Congratulations to professor Kristine Larson for being named a winner of a 2017 Governor's Award for High-Impact Research for her work "GPS Reflections: Innovative Techniques."

Now in their 9th year, the Governor's Awards are a project of CO-LABS, and celebrate the exceptional and groundbreaking work of scientists and engineers from Colorado’s federally-funded research labs and institutions.

“The projects in this year’s CO-LABS High-Impact Awards spotlight what makes Colorado a leader in innovation It’s terrific to see research advance its partnerships with the private sector. The range of crucial and profound discoveries coming from these labs are a national asset,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “I congratulate the scientific teams for their groundbreaking work and am excited to see the mark they will leave on our state and society as a whole.”

GPS: Far More Than Navigation

Larson's research group, including CU Boulder, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University NAVSTAR Consortium (UNAVCO), utilized the reflections of signals from GPS satellites observed by ~500 ground-based receivers in the western U.S. and Canada.

"I'm glad to see the CO-LAB organization recognizing that great research comes not only from individual labs, but from a collaboration that crosses institutional boundaries," Larson says.

While GPS is typically thought of by the public as only a navigation tool, researchers like Larson have been able to develop new and innovative ways to use the signals. Taking the data from GPS receivers primarily deployed to measure ground motions related to plate tectonics and for other reasons, she has been able to extract key parameters about the state of the surface below the antenna, such as soil moisture, snow depth, vegetation water content, and water level.

These new measurements are utilized for research in diverse fields of Earth science, such as hydrology, phenology, ecology, soil science, atmospheric sciences, ocean sciences, and cryospheric sciences. GPS reflection measurements also provide a new source of data to validate and calibrate satellite-based earth observations. The data inform risk resiliency, such as flood or drought forecasting, support natural resource management, especially regarding land-use and farming efficiency, as well as helping diverse consumers, such as those in agriculture, the winter recreational industry and the aerospace industry.

Recognizing Breakthrough Research

“Colorado has one of the highest per capita concentrations of federal science, research and engineering facilities in the nation, with renowned scientists whose research has global impact in a range of fields including agriculture, climate and weather, earth science, materials science, natural resource management, renewable energy, space physics and telecommunications,” said CO-LABS Executive Director Dan Powers. “This prestigious event provides a unique opportunity to connect with leading scientists, lab directors, business leaders and policymakers in an informal and celebratory setting, as we highlight the labs’ role in innovation and their significant contribution to the state economy.”

Started in 2009 by then-Governor Bill Ritter, this recognition effort starts with CO-LABS convening a special committee of academic researchers, technology transfer experts and science and engineering professionals to review nominations from the more than 30 federally-funded labs and research institutes in Colorado. Through a thoughtful and thorough process this group selects projects that have had a significant global, national or state impact resulting from a scientific breakthrough, change in public policy or development of a new technology.

The winners will be formally recognized and celebrated Thursday, October 5, 2016 from 5:30pm-9:00pm at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Boulevard in Denver, Colorado. Tickets and registration details are available at