Multiresolution tomography for the ionosphere

  • Tommaso Panicciari

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The ionosphere is a dynamic and ionized medium. Specification of the ionospheric electron density is important for radio systems operating up to a few GHz. Such systems include communication, navigation and surveillance operations. Computerized Ionospheric Tomography (CIT) is a technique that allows specification of the electron density in the ionosphere. CIT, unlike medical tomography, has geometric limitations such as uneven and sparse distribution of ground-based receivers and limited-angle observations. The inversion is therefore underdetermined and to overcome the geometric limitations of the problem, regularization techniques need to be used.In this thesis the horizontal variation of the ionosphere is represented using wavelet basis functions. Wavelets are chosen because the ground based ionospheric instrumentation is unevenly distributed and hence there is an expectation that the resolution of the tomographic image will change across a large region of interest. Wavelets are able to represent structures with different scale and position efficiently, which is known as Multi Resolution Analysis (MRA). The theory of sparse regularization allows the usage of a small number of basis functions with minimum loss of information. Furthermore, sparsity through wavelets can better differentiate between noise and actual information. This is advantageous because it increases the efficacy to resolve the structures of the ionosphere at different spatial horizontal scale sizes. The basis set is also extended to incorporate time dependence in the tomographic images by means of three-dimensional wavelets. The methods have been tested using both simulated and real observations from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). The simulation was necessary in order to have a controllable environment where the ability to resolve different scale structures would be tested. The further analysis of the methods required also the use of real observations. They tested the technique under conditions of temporal dynamics that would be more difficult to reproduce with simulations, which often tend to be valid in quiet ionospheric behaviors.Improvements in the detection and reconstruction of ionospheric structures were illustrated with sparse regularization. The comparison was performed against two standard methods. The first one was based on spherical harmonics in space, whilst the second relied on a time-dependent smoothing regularization. In simulation, wavelets showed the possibility to resolve small-scale structures better than spherical harmonics and illustrated the potential of creating ionospheric maps at high resolution. In reality, GNSS satellite orbits allow satellite to receiver datasets that traverse the ionosphere at a few hundred km per second and hence a long time window of typically half an hour may be required to provide observations. The assumption of an unchanging ionosphere is only valid at some locations under very quiet geomagnetic conditions and at certain times of day. For this reason the theory was extended to include time dependence in the wavelet method. This was obtained by considering two approaches: a time-smooth regularization and three-dimensional wavelets. The wavelet method was illustrated on a European dataset and demonstrated some improvements in the reconstructions of the main trough. In conclusion wavelets and sparse regularization were demonstrated to be a valid alternative to more standard methods.
Date of Award28 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCathryn Mitchell (Supervisor), Nathan Smith (Supervisor) & Ivan Astin (Supervisor)


  • ionospheric tomography
  • Sparse regularization
  • Wavelets

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