Articles | Volume 6, issue 11
Research article
14 Nov 2013
Research article |  | 14 Nov 2013

Tropospheric profiles of wet refractivity and humidity from the combination of remote sensing data sets and measurements on the ground

F. Hurter and O. Maier

Abstract. We reconstruct atmospheric wet refractivity profiles for the western part of Switzerland with a least-squares collocation approach from data sets of (a) zenith path delays that are a byproduct of the GPS (global positioning system) processing, (b) ground meteorological measurements, (c) wet refractivity profiles from radio occultations whose tangent points lie within the study area, and (d) radiosonde measurements. Wet refractivity is a parameter partly describing the propagation of electromagnetic waves and depends on the atmospheric parameters temperature and water vapour pressure. In addition, we have measurements of a lower V-band microwave radiometer at Payerne. It delivers temperature profiles at high temporal resolution, especially in the range from ground to 3000 m a.g.l., though vertical information content decreases with height. The temperature profiles together with the collocated wet refractivity profiles provide near-continuous dew point temperature or relative humidity profiles at Payerne for the study period from 2009 to 2011.

In the validation of the humidity profiles, we adopt a two-step procedure. We first investigate the reconstruction quality of the wet refractivity profiles at the location of Payerne by comparing them to wet refractivity profiles computed from radiosonde profiles available for that location. We also assess the individual contributions of the data sets to the reconstruction quality and demonstrate a clear benefit from the data combination. Secondly, the accuracy of the conversion from wet refractivity to dew point temperature and relative humidity profiles with the radiometer temperature profiles is examined, comparing them also to radiosonde profiles.

For the least-squares collocation solution combining GPS and ground meteorological measurements, we achieve the following error figures with respect to the radiosonde reference: maximum median offset of relative refractivity error is −16% and quartiles are 5% to 40% for the lower troposphere. We further added 189 radio occultations that met our requirements. They mostly improved the accuracy in the upper troposphere. Maximum median offsets have decreased from 120% relative error to 44% at 8 km height. Dew point temperature profiles after the conversion with radiometer temperatures compare to radiosonde profiles as to: absolute dew point temperature errors in the lower troposphere have a maximum median offset of −2 K and maximum quartiles of 4.5 K. For relative humidity, we get a maximum mean offset of 7.3%, with standard deviations of 12–20%.

The methodology presented allows us to reconstruct humidity profiles at any location where temperature profiles, but no atmospheric humidity measurements other than from GPS are available. Additional data sets of wet refractivity are shown to be easily integrated into the framework and strongly aid the reconstruction. Since the used data sets are all operational and available in near-realtime, we envisage the methodology of this paper to be a tool for nowcasting of clouds and rain and to understand processes in the boundary layer and at its top.