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Founded 1984 (1984)
Focus Geodesy, Data acquisition, Scientific data archiving
Coordinates 40°03′40″N 105°12′21″W / 40.06114°N 105.20586°W / 40.06114; -105.20586
Mission UNAVCO, a non-profit university-governed consortium, facilitates geoscience research and education using geodesy. We challenge ourselves to transform human understanding of the changing Earth by enabling the integration of innovative technologies, open geodetic observations, and research, from pole to pole.
Website www.unavco.org
Formerly called
University NAVSTAR Consortium
Ben Pauk and Kelly Kore conducting repair work in the Cook Inlet near Augustine in very windy conditions. Photo by Dave Mencin.

UNAVCO is a non-profit university-governed consortium that facilitates geoscience research and education using Geodesy. The UNAVCO academic and research community seeks to broaden human understanding of the changing Earth by integrating technologies, open geodetic observations, and research. UNAVCO is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and supports research around the world.

UNAVCO Membership as of 2012
UNAVCO Headquarters, Boulder, Colorado

As a university-governed consortium, UNAVCO is collectively tasked with advancing and supporting the science goals of the community. UNAVCO currently has over 100 US academic members, and supports over 65 organizations as associate members. Before incorporation in 2001, UNAVCO existed under different organizational umbrellas for nearly two decades as the University Navstar Consortium, then primarily serving geophysicists and geodesists who study tectonic deformation using high-precision GPS technology.

Since 2003, UNAVCO's scope has expanded significantly, with service to new science communities - including those who focus on the deformation of ice, the Earth's response to ground water, sea level, and other aspects of the hydrosphere, and renewed interest in imaging the structure of the atmosphere. UNAVCO has also expanded its support of new geodetic tools: advancing GPS towards mm-level global GPS geodesy and to streaming high rate observations; borehole strain meters and seismometers, expanded geodetic imaging using lidar for Airborne Laser Swath Mapping, InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar), and Terrestrial Laser Scanning, web services and cyberinfrastructure. GPS is finding applications in a frequency range that used to be the sole provenance of seismology, as GPS measurements grow from one solution per day to one solution per second, with high precision.

As of October, 2013, UNAVCO operates the GAGE (Geodesy Advancing Geosciences and EarthScope) Facility, located in Boulder, Colorado with regional offices in San Clemente, California and Anchorage, Alaska. The Facility provides science support through community coordination, field engineering, data services, technology innovation, and instrument testing, acquisition, and deployment. It provides scientific support to global geodetic infrastructure that is developed and operated through international collaborations. EarthScope, a set of integrated geophysical observatories, supports investigation of the entire temporal spectrum of Earth deformation processes. In particular, the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) provides geodetic imaging of plate boundary deformation.

UNAVCO undertook an internal reorganization to refine its community support and advisory committees. Three UNAVCO programs focus on: (1) Geodetic Infrastructure; (2) Geodetic Data Services; and (3) Education and Community Engagement.

Tools and Services[edit]


The UNAVCO GAGE Facility provides access to several types of data that scientists use for quantifying the motions of rock, ice and water at or near the Earth’s surface. Geodetic GPS/GNSS Data (Global Navigation Satellite System / Global Positioning System Data), enable millimeter-scale surface motion measurements at discrete points. Geodetic Imaging Data are collected by a variety of different sensors deployed on satellites, aircraft, and on the ground, and provide high resolution terrain models and deformation measurements over areas of tens of meters to hundreds of square kilometers. Data collected from Strain and Seismic Borehole instruments measure the deformation at or near the surface of the Earth and measure rock physical properties in the vicinity of the installations. At many of the sites where geodetic measurements are made, Meteorological Data are also collected to aid in the processing of the geodetic data. Under the large EarthScope Plate Boundary Observatory, UNAVCO acquires, archives, and/or distributes a number of community data sets including GPS, strainmeter, borehole seismometer, tilt meter, and geodetic imaging with radar and lidar, as part of EarthScope’s Plate Boundary Observatory.

GPS data are available both via ftp and via a data-mining interface: http://facility.unavco.org/data/dai2/app/dai2.html. UNAVCO is developing Geodesy Seamless Archive Centers (GSAC) with GPS archives at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SOPAC) and Goddard Space Flight Center (CDDIS) for facilitating user access to geodesy data.

GPS/GNSS Systems[edit]

The GAGE Facility manages a community pool of high accuracy portable GPS/GNSS receiver systems that can be used for a range of applications. These complete systems – receivers, antennas, mounts, power and optional communications - can be deployed for days in episodic campaigns or for many months long-term investigations. Systems are also available for precision mapping applications.

Terrestrial Laser Scanning[edit]

The GAGE Facility at UNAVCO maintains a pool of Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) instruments and associated peripherals, digital photography equipment, software and ancillary equipment optimized to support Earth science investigators. TLS technology is based on lidar ("LIght raDAR") and is also referred to as ground-based lidar or tripod lidar. It is an active imaging system whereby laser pulses are emitted by the scanner and observables include the range and intensity of pulse returns reflected by the surface or object being scanned.

The primary capability of TLS is the generation of high resolution 3D maps and images of surfaces and objects over scales of meters to kilometers with centimeter to sub-centimeter precision. Repeat TLS measurements allow the imaging and measurement of changes through time and in unprecedented detail, making TLS even more valuable for transformative science investigations.

TLS is a powerful geodetic imaging tool ideal for supporting a wide spectrum of user applications in many different environments. Geoscience applications to date include detailed mapping of fault scarps, geologic outcrops, fault-surface roughness, frost polygons, lava lakes, dikes, fissures, glaciers, columnar joints and hillside drainages. Repeat TLS surveys allow the imaging and measurement of surface changes through time due, for example, to surface processes, volcanic deformation, ice flow, beach morphology transitions, and post-seismic slip. The incorporation of GPS measurements provides accurate georeferencing of TLS data in an absolute reference frame. The addition of digital photography yields photorealistic 3D images. It has been demonstrated that TLS derived 3D imagery is a unique and powerful tool for educational and outreach applications as well.

Terrestrial Laser Scan: North Fork Toutle River near Mt. St Helens. Photo by Jim Normandeau.
UNAVCO polar field engineers install a continuous GPS station in Antarctica. Photo by Joe Petit.
Beatrice Christopher records necessary survey information while local village people watch the installation of a campaign GPS site in eastern Tanzania. Photo: Brendan Hodge 2010.

Engineering Expertise[edit]

The GAGE Facility provides engineering expertise and equipment resources to investigators in support of their geophysical research projects. This may include: Proposal planning, project logistics and support letters, field engineering support, modern GNSS equipment for loan to projects, permanent GPS station installations, operation, and maintenance, and/or data acquisition, quality control, transfer, management, and archiving.

GAGE Facility engineers provide classroom and in-the-field training, project design and implementation, field engineering, TLS or GPS network operations, and technology development for GPS, TLS and other applications.

Polar Services[edit]

The GAGE Facility provides geodetic support to NSF-OPP (National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs) funded researchers working in the Arctic and Antarctic. Survey-grade GPS receivers, Terrestrial Laser Scanners, and supporting power and communications systems for continuous data collection and campaign surveying are available. Operation and maintenance services are also provided for long term data collection, with on-line data distribution from the UNAVCO community archive.

GGN, GNSS, IGS Support[edit]

The GAGE Facility provides global infrastructure support to NASA/JPL in operating a collection of high capability, globally distributed, permanent GPS stations called the Global GPS Network (GGN). Data from these stations are used to produce highly accurate products for GPS Earth science research, multidisciplinary applications, and education. UNAVCO also provides support for the International GNSS Service (IGS).

Short Courses, Workshops, Internships[edit]

The GAGE Facility’s Education and Community Engagement (ECE) program offers short courses and workshops. They focus on professional development, research, and education, strategic support for scientific investigators in developing broader impacts, in-residence programs for geodesy science community members and educators, professional development in geosciences for K-12 faculty, and for undergraduate students through RESESS (Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students), student internships to encourage broader participation in geosciences.

Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO)[edit]

UNAVCO operates the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), the geodetic component of EarthScope, funded by the National Science Foundation. The PBO consists of several major observatory components: a network of 1100+ permanent, continuously operating Global Positioning System (GPS) stations many of which provide data at high-rate and in real-time, 78 borehole seismometers, 74 borehole strainmeters, 28 shallow borehole tiltmeters, and six long baseline laser strainmeters. These instruments are complemented by InSAR (interferometric synthetic aperture radar) and lidar imagery and geochronology.

Continuously Operating Caribbean GPS Observational Network (COCONet)[edit]

UNAVCO operates the Continuously Operating Caribbean GPS Observational Network (COCONet)[1], which consists of 50 planned continuously operating GPS/weather stations integrated with 65 existing GPS stations operated by partner organizations, 15 of which will be upgraded with new equipment. COCONet provides free, high-quality, open-format GPS and meteorological data for these stations via the internet for use by scientists, government agencies, educators, students, and the private sector. These data are used by local and foreign researchers to study solid earth processes such as tectonic plate motions, tectonic plate boundary interaction and deformation, including earthquake cycle processes and risks. They also serve atmospheric scientists and weather forecasting groups by providing more precise estimates of tropospheric water vapor and enabling better forecasting of the dynamics of airborne moisture associated with the yearly Caribbean hurricane cycle.


UNAVCO was created in 1984 in response to the challenge of applying GPS to geosciences. At that time it was called the University NAVSTAR Consortium (UNAVCO). At its inception, UNAVCO was housed within the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado-Boulder. In 1992, UNAVCO moved under the umbrella of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), also located in Boulder, Colorado. In 2001, UNAVCO, Inc. incorporated as an independent, non-profit, [501(c)(3)] corporation. For a one-year period, between April 2001 and September 2003, UCAR/UNAVCO and UNAVCO, Inc. both existed. In October 2003, funding for UCAR/UNAVCO ended and the staff and equipment of UCAR/UNAVCO moved to UNAVCO, Inc. The objective of this change was to provide the UNAVCO community with control over UNAVCO resources and activities with no additional cost to the community. UNAVCO, Inc. adopted the former acronym as its official name when it incorporated, though currently the acronym does not specifically stand for anything. In 2004, UNAVCO initiated a formal Education and Outreach program. That program was reconstituted in 2012 to become Education and Community Engagement. A complete UNAVCO timeline is available on their webpage.


In 2012, UNAVCO undertook an internal reorganization to integrate activities and refine its community support and advisory committees. The three new UNAVCO programs focus on: (1) the integration of observing systems and networks across techniques (Geodetic Infrastructure); (2) network data operations, community data products, and cyberinfrastructure for data security, discovery and accessibility (Geodetic Data Services); and (3) education and outreach strategies (Education and Community Engagement).

Geodetic Infrastructure[edit]

The Geodetic Infrastructure (GI) program integrates all geodetic infrastructure and data acquisition capabilities for continuously operating observational networks and shorter-term deployments. Supported activities include development and testing, advanced systems engineering, the construction, operation, and maintenance of permanent geodetic instrument networks around the globe, and engineering services tailored to PI project requirements. Major projects currently supported by the GI program include the 1,112 station Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), Polar networks in Greenland and Antarctica (GNET and ANET, together known as POLENET), COCONet spanning the Caribbean plate boundary, the multi-disciplinary AfricaArray, and several other smaller continuously observing geodetic networks.

Geodetic Data Services[edit]

Geodetic Data Services (GDS) program provides services for the long-term stewardship of unique data sets. These services organize, manage, and archive data, and develop tools for data access and interpretation. GDS provides a comprehensive suite of services including sensor network data operations, data products and services, data management and archiving, and advanced cyberinfrastructure. Services are provided for GPS/GNSS data, Imaging data, Strain and Seismic data, and Meteorological data. GPS/GNSS data enable millimeter-scale surface motions at discrete points. Data from geodetic imaging instruments can be used to map topography and delineate deformation with high spatial resolution. InSAR and Terrestrial LiDAR imaging data services are provided. Strain and seismic data from borehole strainmeters, seismometers, thermometers, pore pressure transducers, tiltmeters, and rock samples from drilling, as well as surface-based tiltmeters and laser strainmeters are available. In addition, temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pressure data are available from surface measurements of atmospheric conditions from stations. Tropospheric parameters are generated during daily GPS post-processing managed by UNAVCO and are accessible through data access services. The program is optimized to enable access to high-precision geodetic data. The UNAVCO Data Archive includes more than 2,300 continuous GPS stations.

UNAVCO and EarthScope at the 2012 Science and Engineering Festival, 2012. Photo by Wendy Taylor.

Education and Community Engagement[edit]

The Education and Community Engagement program provides services to communicate the scientific results of the geodetic community, foster education across a broad range of learners, and grow workforce development and international partnerships. Particular focus is given to providing training, developing educational materials, and facilitating technical short courses to scientists studying geodesy. The program also supports formal education (K-12) and informal public outreach through workshops, educational materials for secondary students and undergraduate level courses, museum displays, and social media interactions. UNAVCO provides an annual series of short courses and workshops aimed at current researchers who want to update their skills or branch into new areas of geodetic research. UNAVCO Short Courses are offered to increase the capacity of the scientific community to process, analyze, and interpret various types of geodetic data. Educational Workshops promote a broader understanding of Earth science for college and secondary education faculty.

UNAVCO supports geo-workforce development through undergraduate internship programs, graduate student mentoring, and online resources. The premier internship program for upper division undergraduate students is Research Experience in the Solid Earth Science for Students (RESESS). RESESS is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and ExxonMobil. It is a multi-year geoscience research internship as well as a community support and professional development program designed to increase the diversity of students entering the geosciences. Upper-division undergraduate students from underrepresented groups spend 11 weeks in Boulder, Colorado during the summer, conducting an independent geoscience-focused research project. RESESS is a summer internship program dedicated to increasing the diversity of students entering the geosciences. Interns work under the guidance of a research mentor and are mentored and supported throughout the academic year by RESESS program staff from UNAVCO. The alumni of RESESS are 55% Latino/Hispanic, 27% African American/Black, 11% Native American, and 7% Asian American. Of the 30 interns who have gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree, 13 are enrolled in a master’s degree program and 8 are currently enrolled in a doctoral program. Nine RESESS alumni are working in private industry, five of which are in the geosciences.[1]

Membership and Governance[edit]

UNAVCO Members are educational or nonprofit institutions chartered in the United States (US) or its Territories with a commitment to scholarly research involving the application of high precision geodesy to Earth science or related fields. Members must also be willing to make a clear and continuing commitment to active participation in governance and science activities. Associate Membership is available to organizations other than U.S. educational institutions, when those organizations share UNAVCO’s mission and otherwise meet the qualifications for membership.

A Board of Directors is charged with UNAVCO oversight and governance, and is elected by designated representatives of UNAVCO member institutions. The Board works with the science community to create a broad interdisciplinary research agenda based on applications of geodetic technology, to identify investigator needs for infrastructure support, to develop proposals to appropriate sponsors to maintain that infrastructure capability, and to ensure that UNAVCO and its activities provide high quality, cost-effective, and responsive support. Advisory committees for each of the three programs guide the focus of the programs and help shape their initiatives.


For more than two decades, space-based geodetic observations have enabled measurement of the motions of the Earth’s surface and crust at many different scales, with unprecedented spatial and temporal detail and increased precision, leading to fundamental discoveries in continental deformation, plate boundary processes, the earthquake cycle, the geometry and dynamics of magmatic systems, continental groundwater storage, and hydrologic loading.

Space geodesy furthers research on earthquake and tsunami hazards, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, coastal subsidence, wetlands health, soil moisture, groundwater distribution, and space weather.[2]

Solid Earth[edit]

Earth and the tools to study it are constantly changing. The tectonic plates are continuously in motion, though so slowly that even with the highest precision instruments, months or years of observations are necessary to measure it. Over the last several decades, the advent of space-based geodetic techniques have improved the ability to measure tectonic plate motion by several orders of magnitude in spatial and temporal resolution as well as accuracy, and to establish stable terrestrial and celestial reference frames required to achieve these improvements. The research with these systems has led to revolutionary progress in our understanding of plate boundaries and plate interiors.[3]


Ice covers approximately 10% of Earth’s land surface at the present, with most of the ice mass being contained in the Greenland and Antarctic continental ice sheets. Designing and undertaking geodetic experiments that enable researchers to improve the understanding of ice dynamics allows stronger predictions (through numerical models) of the response of the glaciers to changing climates.[4][5][6]

Environmental and Hydrogeodesy[edit]

Through its sensitivity to mass redistribution and accurate distance measurements, geodesy is uniquely posed to answer fundamental questions about issues relating to water and the environment. Geodetic observations are enabling researchers, for the first time, to follow the motion of water within Earth’s system at global scales and to characterize changes in terrestrial groundwater storage at a variety of scales, ranging from continental-scale changes in water storage using gravity space missions, to regional and local changes using InSAR, GNSS, leveling, and relative gravity measurements of surface deformation accompanying aquifer-system compaction.[7][8][9]


Seventy five percent of Earth's crust is unobservable using solely electromagnetic energy-based geodetic techniques. Seafloor geodesy can now expand geodetic positioning to off-shore environments.[10] Researchers can see the effects of changes in Earth's crust far beyond what we can measure with instruments placed solely on dry land.[11]


Space geodesy utilizes electromagnetic signals propagating through the atmosphere of Earth, providing information on tropospheric temperature and water vapor and on ionospheric electron density. Thus, in the early twenty-first century, the goal of geodesy has evolved to include study of the kinematics and dynamics of both Earth’s atmosphere and the solid Earth.[12][13][14]

Human Dimensions[edit]

Geodetic research associated with earthquakes and volcanoes have goals of providing early warnings and mitigating future hazard events on a global scale. As the population density increases and more people live in proximity to seismically active faults, understanding the nature of earthquakes remains a goal of the Earth sciences.[15][16]


High-resolution images and 3D/4D topography maps facilitate field-based tests of a new generation of quantitative models of mass transport mechanisms. Open access to data, tools and facilities for processing, analysis, and visualization, and new algorithms and workflows are changing the landscape of geodetic scientific collaboration.[17]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Charlevoix & Morris Increasing Diversity in Geoscience Through Research Internships, EOS 95(8), 69-70(2014)
  2. ^ Geodesy in the 21st Century, Eos, Vol. 90, No. 18, 5 May 2009, by S. Wdowinski and S. Eriksson. http://www.unavco.org/community_science/science-apps/science-apps.html
  3. ^ A. Newman, S. Stiros, L. Feng, P. Psimoulis, F. Moschas, V. Saltogianni, Y. Jiang, C. Papazachos, D. Panagiotopoulos, E. Karagianni, and D. Vamvakaris. Recent geodetic unrest at Santorini Caldera, Greece. J. Geophys. Res.-Solid Earth, Vol. 39, Art. No. L06309, published 30 March 2012. http://geophysics.eas.gatech.edu/people/anewman/research/papers/Newman_etal_GRL_2012.pdf
  4. ^ Khan, SA, J Wahr, E Leuliette, T van Dam, KM Larson and O Francis (2008), Geodetic measurements of postglacial adjustments in Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.-Solid Earth, 113 (B2) , Art. No. B02402, issn: 0148-0227, ids: 263SI, doi: 10.1029/2007JB004956, Published 14-Feb 2008.
  5. ^ Willis, M. J., A. K. Melkonian, M. E. Pritchard, and S. A. Bernstein (2010) Remote sensing of velocities and elevation changes at outlet glaciers of the northern Patagonian Icefield, Chile (abstract), Ice and Climate Change Conference: A View from the South, Valdivia, Chile
  6. ^ Melkonian, A. K., M. J. Willis, M. E. Pritchard, and S. A. Bernstein (2009) Glacier velocities and elevation change of the Juneau Icefield, Alaska (abstract C51B-0490,), AGU Fall meeting.
  7. ^ Larson, K.M. and F.G. Nievinski, GPS Snow Sensing: Results from the EarthScope Plate Boundary Observatory, GPS Solutions, doi 10.1007/s10291-012-0259-7
  8. ^ Gutmann, E., K. M. Larson, M. Williams, F. G. Nievinski, and V. Zavorotny, Snow measurement by GPS interferometric reflectometry: an evaluation at Niwot Ridge, Colorado, Hydrologic Processes, doi:10.1002/hyp.8329, 2011.
  9. ^ Small, E.E., K.M. Larson, and J. J. Braun, Sensing Vegetation Growth Using Reflected GPS Signals, Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L12401, doi:10.1029/2010GL042951, 2010.
  10. ^ Sato, Mariko; Ishikawa, Tadashi; Ujihara, Naoto; Yoshida, Shigeru; Fujita, Masayuki; Mochizuki, Masashi; Asada, Akira. Displacement Above the Hypocenter of the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Earthquake. Science, Volume 332, Issue 6036, pp. 1395- (2011).
  11. ^ K. Hodgkinson, D. Mencin, A. Borsa, B. Henderson, and W. Johnson. Tsunami Signals Recorded By Plate Boundary Observatory Borehole Strainmeters. Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 14, EGU2012-12291, 2012.
  12. ^ Wang, J., L. Zhang, A. Dai, F. Immler, M. Sommer and H. Voemel, 2012: Radiation dry bias correction of Vaisala RS92 humidity data and its impacts on historical radiosonde data. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., to be submitted.
  13. ^ Mears, C., J. Wang, S. Ho, L. Zhang and X. Zhou, 2012: Total column water vapor, in State of the Climate in 2011. Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., in press.
  14. ^ Roger A. Pielke Jr.; Jose Rubiera; Christopher Landsea; Mario L. Fernandez; and Roberta Klein, Hurricane Vulnerability in Latin America and The Caribbean: Normalized Damage and Loss Potentials, 2003, Natural Hazards Review, pp 101-114.
  15. ^ Wang, J., L. Zhang, A. Dai, F. Immler, M. Sommer and H. Voemel, 2012: Radiation dry bias correction of Vaisala RS92 humidity data and its impacts on historical radiosonde data. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., to be submitted.
  16. ^ Mears, C., J. Wang, S. Ho, L. Zhang and X. Zhou, 2012: Total column water vapor, in State of the Climate in 2011. Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., in press.
  17. ^ Owen, S. E.; Webb, F.; Simons, M.; Rosen, P. A.; Cruz, J.; Yun, S.; Fielding, E. J.; Moore, A. W.; Hua, H.; Agram, P. S. (2011), The ARIA-EQ project: Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis for Earthquakes. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2011, abstract #IN11B-1298.