Articles | Volume 9, issue 9
Research article
26 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 26 Sep 2016

A semiempirical error estimation technique for PWV derived from atmospheric radiosonde data

Julio A. Castro-Almazán, Gabriel Pérez-Jordán, and Casiana Muñoz-Tuñón

Abstract. A semiempirical method for estimating the error and optimum number of sampled levels in precipitable water vapour (PWV) determinations from atmospheric radiosoundings is proposed. Two terms have been considered: the uncertainties in the measurements and the sampling error. Also, the uncertainty has been separated in the variance and covariance components. The sampling and covariance components have been modelled from an empirical dataset of 205 high-vertical-resolution radiosounding profiles, equipped with Vaisala RS80 and RS92 sondes at four different locations: Güímar (GUI) in Tenerife, at sea level, and the astronomical observatory at Roque de los Muchachos (ORM, 2300 m a.s.l.) on La Palma (both on the Canary Islands, Spain), Lindenberg (LIN) in continental Germany, and Ny-Ålesund (NYA) in the Svalbard Islands, within the Arctic Circle. The balloons at the ORM were launched during intensive and unique site-testing runs carried out in 1990 and 1995, while the data for the other sites were obtained from radiosounding stations operating for a period of 1 year (2013–2014). The PWV values ranged between ∼  0.9 and ∼  41 mm. The method sub-samples the profile for error minimization. The result is the minimum error and the optimum number of levels.

The results obtained in the four sites studied showed that the ORM is the driest of the four locations and the one with the fastest vertical decay of PWV. The exponential autocorrelation pressure lags ranged from 175 hPa (ORM) to 500 hPa (LIN). The results show a coherent behaviour with no biases as a function of the profile. The final error is roughly proportional to PWV whereas the optimum number of levels (N0) is the reverse. The value of N0 is less than 400 for 77 % of the profiles and the absolute errors are always <  0.6 mm. The median relative error is 2.0 ±  0.7 % and the 90th percentile P90 = 4.6 %. Therefore, whereas a radiosounding samples at least N0 uniform vertical levels, depending on the water vapour content and distribution of the atmosphere, the error in the PWV estimate is likely to stay below ≈  3 %, even for dry conditions.

Short summary
Water vapour is the main responsible for the atmospheric extinction in astronomical observations in different bands. One of the most common and accurate techniques to measure it are the radiosoundings. A method to estimate the error and the optimum number of sampled levels is proposed, considering the uncertainties and the leakage in sampling, based on data from Roque de los Muchachos Observ. and Guimar (Canary Is., Spain), Lindenberg (Germany) and Ny-Ålesund (Norway). The median error is 2.0  %.