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A retrieval method is developed to obtain atmospheric refractivity profiles based upon the zenith delay of single ground-based global positioning system receivers. It is found that the key parameter in exponential wet refractivity model is the equivalent height of wet term Hw, while the errors between the integral of the wet terms of refractivity and the true values are single-peaked functions of Hw. Therefore the golden section method is utilised to retrieve Hw; moreover, the refractivity profiles are obtained. Meanwhile, the classic Hopfield model is used as the hydrostatic refractivity model. The experimental results with radiosonde data in Shanghai, China, and simulations using data from Qingdao, China, show that this method has demonstrated a good agreement with radiosonde profiles.