Articles | Volume 8, issue 4
Research article
23 Apr 2015
Research article |  | 23 Apr 2015

Climate intercomparison of GPS radio occultation, RS90/92 radiosondes and GRUAN from 2002 to 2013

F. Ladstädter, A. K. Steiner, M. Schwärz, and G. Kirchengast

Abstract. Observations from the GPS radio occultation (GPSRO) satellite technique and from the newly established GCOS Reference Upper Air Network (GRUAN) are both candidates to serve as reference observations in the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). Such reference observations are key to decrease existing uncertainties in upper-air climate research. There are now more than 12 years of data available from GPSRO, with the recognized properties high accuracy, global coverage, high vertical resolution, and long-term stability. These properties make GPSRO a suitable choice for comparison studies with other upper-air observational systems. The GRUAN network consists of reference radiosonde ground stations (16 at present), which adhere to the GCOS climate monitoring principles. In this study, we intercompare GPSRO temperature and humidity profiles and Vaisala RS90/92 data from the "standard" global radiosonde network over the whole 2002 to 2013 time frame. Additionally, we include the first years of GRUAN data (using Vaisala RS92), available since 2009. GPSRO profiles which occur within 3 h and 300 km of radiosonde launches are used. Overall very good agreement is found between all three data sets with temperature differences usually less than 0.2 K. In the stratosphere above 30 hPa, temperature differences are larger but still within 0.5 K. Day/night comparisons with GRUAN data reveal small deviations likely related to a warm bias of the radiosonde data at high altitudes, but also residual errors from the GPSRO retrieval process might play a role. Vaisala RS90/92 specific humidity exhibits a dry bias of up to 40% in the upper troposphere, with a smaller bias at lower altitudes within 15%. GRUAN shows a marked improvement in the bias characteristics, with less than 5% difference to GPSRO, up to 300 hPa. GPSRO dry temperature and physical temperature are validated using radiosonde data as reference. We find that GPSRO provides valuable long-term stable reference observations with well-defined error characteristics for climate applications and for anchoring other upper-air measurements.