How Does A GPS Work In Areas With Poor Satellite Visibility Like Forests Or Canyons?

Imagine you’re hiking through a dense forest or exploring the depths of a majestic canyon. As you rely on your GPS to guide you, you may wonder how it manages to navigate through such challenging terrain. In areas with poor satellite visibility, such as forests or canyons, the workings of GPS become even more intriguing. But fear not, for this article will shed light on the magic behind how GPS devices continue to provide reliable navigation, even in the most visually obstructed environments. So, let’s embark on this journey together and uncover the secrets of GPS in areas with limited satellite visibility.

How Does a GPS Work in Areas with Poor Satellite Visibility Like Forests or Canyons?

Overview of GPS Technology

GPS, or Global Positioning System, is a widely used technology that allows us to determine our precise location on Earth. It works by receiving signals from multiple satellites orbiting the planet. These signals contain information about the satellite’s location and the precise time the signal was transmitted. By measuring the time it takes for the signals to reach the GPS receiver, the device can calculate the distance between itself and each satellite. With this information, it can determine the user’s exact location.

Understanding Satellite Visibility

In order for a GPS receiver to function properly, it needs clear visibility of at least four satellites. However, in certain environments like forests or canyons, the dense vegetation or towering cliffs can obstruct the GPS signals, resulting in poor satellite visibility. This can lead to inaccurate or unreliable location data.

Challenges in Forests and Canyons

In areas with poor satellite visibility such as forests or canyons, several challenges arise that can affect the accuracy of GPS signals. The dense tree cover in forests and the high walls of canyons can reduce the number of satellites that the GPS receiver can “see”. Additionally, the signals from the satellites may be weakened or distorted as they pass through the vegetation or bounce off the canyon walls. These factors can lead to errors in position calculations and result in unreliable GPS readings.

Mitigation Techniques for Poor Satellite Visibility

To overcome the challenges of poor satellite visibility in forests or canyons, several mitigation techniques have been developed. These techniques aim to improve the accuracy and reliability of GPS readings in environments with limited satellite visibility.

1. Multi-Constellation and Multi-Frequency Receivers

Multi-constellation and multi-frequency receivers are designed to receive signals from multiple satellite constellations, such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou. By having access to signals from multiple constellations, the receiver has a greater chance of receiving enough strong signals to calculate an accurate position. Additionally, multi-frequency receivers can use different frequency bands to mitigate signal degradation caused by obstacles like trees or buildings.

2. Differential GPS (DGPS)

Differential GPS (DGPS) is a technique that improves GPS accuracy by using an additional reference receiver at a known location. The reference receiver calculates the difference between its known position and the position calculated by the mobile receiver. This difference, known as the differential correction, is then applied to the mobile receiver’s position calculation to improve accuracy. DGPS is particularly useful in areas with poor satellite visibility as it can compensate for errors caused by obscured or weak signals.

3. Assisted GPS (AGPS)

Assisted GPS (AGPS) is a technique that uses additional data from cellular networks to enhance GPS performance. In areas with poor satellite visibility, AGPS can provide assistance by using cellular tower information to estimate the user’s location. This information is then used to assist the GPS receiver in acquiring and tracking the satellite signals, improving the speed and accuracy of position calculations.

4. Dead-reckoning and Inertial Navigation Systems

Dead-reckoning and inertial navigation systems utilize sensors, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes, to track the movement of a GPS receiver when satellite signals are weak or unavailable. By measuring changes in velocity and direction, these systems can estimate the user’s position based on previous known positions. While dead-reckoning and inertial navigation systems may not provide highly accurate position information over long distances, they can be valuable in environments like forests or canyons where satellite visibility is limited.

5. Terrain Modeling and Mapping

Terrain modeling and mapping techniques involve creating detailed digital models of the environment to assist GPS positioning in areas with poor satellite visibility. By analyzing the terrain data, including elevation, tree cover, and canyon walls, the GPS receiver can better predict signal obstruction and compensate for signal degradation. This enables more accurate positioning even in challenging environments.

6. Utilizing Ground-based Reference Stations

Ground-based reference stations, also known as CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Station) or GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) reference stations, provide real-time corrections and additional satellite information to improve GPS accuracy. By accessing the data from these reference stations, GPS receivers in poor satellite visibility areas can enhance their positioning accuracy and mitigate errors caused by obstructed signals.

7. Signal Amplification and Filtering Techniques

Signal amplification and filtering techniques can help improve GPS signal reception in areas with poor satellite visibility. These techniques involve using specialized antennas and amplifiers to boost weak signals and filter out unwanted noise or interference. By enhancing the quality of received signals, GPS receivers can enhance their performance and accuracy in challenging environments.

8. Hybrid Positioning Solutions

Hybrid positioning solutions combine GPS technology with other sensors or technologies to improve accuracy and reliability in areas with poor satellite visibility. These solutions may include integrating GPS with technologies like inertial navigation systems, Wi-Fi positioning, or even visual odometry using cameras. By combining multiple data sources, hybrid positioning solutions can compensate for the limitations of GPS in challenging environments.

9. Alternative Technologies in Poor Visibility Areas

In some situations, traditional GPS technology may not be suitable for areas with extremely poor satellite visibility. In such cases, alternative technologies like Bluetooth beacons, ultrawideband (UWB) systems, or radio frequency identification (RFID) can be used. These technologies can provide more localized positioning information and may be better suited for specific applications or environments where GPS signals are severely obstructed.

Emerging Technologies for Better GPS Performance

Technology is constantly advancing, and researchers are continuously developing new techniques to improve GPS performance in areas with poor satellite visibility. Here are some emerging technologies that show promise in enhancing GPS accuracy and reliability.

1. High-Precision Positioning Systems

High-precision positioning systems, such as Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS or Precise Point Positioning (PPP), offer significantly higher accuracy than traditional GPS. These systems use advanced algorithms and techniques to reduce errors and improve positioning accuracy, making them valuable in environments where satellite visibility is limited.

2. Real-time Kinematic (RTK) GPS

Real-time Kinematic (RTK) GPS is a technique that relies on receiving corrections from a base station in real-time. These corrections are used to enhance the accuracy of the GPS receiver’s position calculations. RTK GPS offers centimeter-level positioning accuracy, which can be crucial in applications where precision is essential, such as surveying or precision agriculture.

3. Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS)

The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) is a system developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to improve GPS accuracy for aviation purposes. WAAS uses a network of ground-based reference stations and geostationary satellites to correct GPS errors and provide enhanced accuracy over a wide area. While primarily designed for aviation, the WAAS system can also benefit other applications in areas with poor satellite visibility.

4. Cellular and Wi-Fi Positioning

Cellular and Wi-Fi positioning techniques utilize signals from cellular networks and Wi-Fi access points to estimate the user’s position. In areas with weak or obstructed GPS signals, these techniques can provide reasonable positioning accuracy. By combining GPS signals with cellular or Wi-Fi information, users can maintain location services even in environments where satellite visibility is limited.

5. UAV-based Atmospheric Monitoring

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) equipped with atmospheric monitoring sensors are being used to collect data on atmospheric conditions that can affect GPS signals. By analyzing the data collected by these UAVs, researchers can develop models that help predict and mitigate signal degradation caused by factors such as atmospheric interference or multipath effects. This research can lead to the development of more robust GPS systems that can better operate in areas with poor satellite visibility.

Limitations and Future Developments

While various mitigation techniques and emerging technologies aim to improve the performance of GPS in areas with poor satellite visibility, it is important to acknowledge that there are limitations to these solutions. Each technique has its own set of constraints and may not be universally applicable to all scenarios. Factors such as cost, complexity, and compatibility with existing systems can also influence the practicality of implementing these solutions.

Nevertheless, ongoing research and development in GPS technology continue to drive improvements in accuracy, reliability, and performance. Future developments may focus on a combination of techniques or the integration of different technologies to create more robust and versatile positioning systems. As technology progresses, it is anticipated that GPS devices will become increasingly effective in providing accurate location information even in challenging environments.


In summary, GPS technology provides valuable location information by receiving signals from satellites orbiting the Earth. However, areas with poor satellite visibility like forests or canyons present challenges to the accuracy and reliability of GPS readings. To overcome these challenges, various mitigation techniques have been developed, such as multi-constellation and multi-frequency receivers, DGPS, AGPS, dead-reckoning and inertial navigation systems, terrain modeling, and ground-based reference stations. Additionally, emerging technologies like high-precision positioning systems, RTK GPS, WAAS, cellular and Wi-Fi positioning, and UAV-based atmospheric monitoring offer promising solutions for improved GPS performance. Although there are limitations and challenges, ongoing advancements in GPS technology continue to pave the way for more reliable and accurate positioning in areas with poor satellite visibility.