Articles | Volume 9, issue 9
Research article
12 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 12 Sep 2016

High-spatial-resolution mapping of precipitable water vapour using SAR interferograms, GPS observations and ERA-Interim reanalysis

Wei Tang, Mingsheng Liao, Lu Zhang, Wei Li, and Weimin Yu

Abstract. A high spatial and temporal resolution of the precipitable water vapour (PWV) in the atmosphere is a key requirement for the short-scale weather forecasting and climate research. The aim of this work is to derive temporally differenced maps of the spatial distribution of PWV by analysing the tropospheric delay "noise" in interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). Time series maps of differential PWV were obtained by processing a set of ENVISAT ASAR (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar) images covering the area of southern California, USA from 6 October 2007 to 29 November 2008. To get a more accurate PWV, the component of hydrostatic delay was calculated and subtracted by using ERA-Interim reanalysis products. In addition, the ERA-Interim was used to compute the conversion factors required to convert the zenith wet delay to water vapour. The InSAR-derived differential PWV maps were calibrated by means of the GPS PWV measurements over the study area. We validated our results against the measurements of PWV derived from the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) which was located together with the ASAR sensor on board the ENVISAT satellite. Our comparative results show strong spatial correlations between the two data sets. The difference maps have Gaussian distributions with mean values close to zero and standard deviations below 2 mm. The advantage of the InSAR technique is that it provides water vapour distribution with a spatial resolution as fine as 20 m and an accuracy of ∼ 2 mm. Such high-spatial-resolution maps of PWV could lead to much greater accuracy in meteorological understanding and quantitative precipitation forecasts. With the launch of Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B satellites, every few days (6 days) new SAR images can be acquired with a wide swath up to 250 km, enabling a unique operational service for InSAR-based water vapour maps with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.

Short summary
Interferometric radar meteorology (IRM) is a new technique for meteorological applications and atmospheric studies. It can be used to study the water vapour content in the atmosphere with a spatial resolution of 20 m and an accuracy of about 2 mm. This high spatial resolution of water vapour distribution can be important for short-scale weather forecasting and climate research.