Published: Oct. 24, 2014

CU-Boulder Professors Kristine Larson (Aerospace Engineering Sciences) and Eric Small (Geological Sciences) have been awarded the prestigious Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Creativity Prize for Water. The prize is awarded biannually to acknowledge innovative work that contributes to the sustainable availability of water and the alleviation of the global problem of water scarcity.

Larson and Small, in collaboration with scientists at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration also in Boulder, developed a new method to measure water at the Earth’s surface. The research team discovered that standard geodetic GPS instruments are sensitive to hydrological influences. They subsequently developed a cost-effective technique, GPS Interferometric Reflectometry (GPS-IR), to measure soil moisture, snow depth and vegetation water content around GPS antennas. GPS-IR has the advantage of relying on an existing GPS infrastructure installed by surveyors and geoscientists that covers an increasingly large portion of the global surface.

The team uses the GPS-IR technique to analyze data streams from existing GPS networks in near real-time. Data from 100’s of operational GPS sites are downloaded and processed, yielding estimates of hydrologic variables within 24 hours. Scientists and government agencies can access this information at the team’s web portal and use the data to improve monitoring and forecasting of hydrologic variables.

The awards ceremony will be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 1 at the 6th International Conference on Water Resources and Arid Environments. The 2014 Creativity Prize, worth $266,000, was split between the Boulder-based GPS-IR group and scientists at Princeton University studying drought.