Can weather be forecasted by crowdsourcing mobile phone data?

Researchers at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute FGI are investigating the possibilities of forecasting weather by crowdsourcing mobile phone data.

Uhkaavat sadepilvet maaseudulla
Julia Hautojärvi

The aim of the project is to simulate the use of up to a thousand smartphone-based GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receivers for measuring water vapour in the atmosphere. The large number of receivers enables the modelling of the distribution of water vapour in the atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy. Water vapour is found in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, that is the troposphere, which spans from the Earth's surface to as high as 6–8 kilometres in polar regions and to as high as 16–20 kilometres at the Equator.

It is important to measure the amount of water vapour, because it is the most important greenhouse gas and it affects both weather forecasts and the accuracy of GNSS positioning. Moreover, the research results will benefit areas where there is no wide-ranging measurement equipment of a high quality for forecasting weather, such as vast ocean areas and polar regions.

Precise Point Positioning and the tomography of the atmosphere

The Weather Monitoring Based on Collaborative Crowdsourcing project is an international cooperation project. FGI is a subcontractor to the French company Airbus Defense and Space in this project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).

– We combined Precise Point Positioning with the tomography of the atmosphere into one mathematical problem. This had never been done before, says Senior Research Scientist Ville Lehtola who is responsible for the project at FGI.

– Fortunately, we managed to make the algorithm work almost within the project schedule, Lehtola says.

Finland has much to offer in international top research

On a more general level, the project investigates the utilisation of crowdsourcing in collecting spatial data and how these methods complement existing space technology. The project will also produce new information and cooperation opportunities, as well as strengthen Finland's image within international research.

– It is great that Finnish know-how can be exported in this way, but it would also be good if projects were led from Finland. It is important that Finland in all ways participates in international top research, Lehtola points out.

– This means not only doing, but also funding and political definitions of policy, which support our strengths. Cooperation projects are a barter trade: to become part of something, you need to have something to offer, says Lehtola, who is currently also holding a position as associate professor at University of Twente in the Netherlands.

More information

Senior Research Scientist Ville Lehtola, +358 40 569 2583,

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