On the interpretation of upper-tropospheric humidity based on a second-order retrieval from infrared radiances

Gierens, Klaus; Eleftheratos, Kostas

We present a novel retrieval for upper-tropospheric humidity (UTH) from High-resolution Infrared Radiation Sounder (HIRS) channel 12 radiances that successfully bridges the wavelength change from 6.7 to 6.5 µm that occurred from HIRS/2 on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite NOAA-14 to HIRS/3 on satellite NOAA-15. The jump in average brightness temperature (in the water vapour channel; T12) that this change had caused (about −7 K) could be fixed with a statistical inter-calibration method (Shi and Bates2011). Unfortunately, the retrieval of UTHi (upper-tropospheric humidity with respect to ice) based on the inter-calibrated data was not satisfying at the high tail of the distribution of UTHi. Attempts to construct a better inter-calibration in the low T12 range (equivalent to the high UTHi range) were either not successful (Gierens et al.2018) or required additional statistically determined corrections to the measured brightness temperatures (Gierens and Eleftheratos2017).

The new method presented here is based on the original one (Soden and Bretherton1993; Stephens et al.1996; Jackson and Bates2001), but it extends linearisations in the formulation of water vapour saturation pressure and in the temperature dependence of the Planck function to second order. To achieve the second-order formulation we derive the retrieval from the beginning, and we find that the most influential ingredient is the use of different optical constants for the two involved channel wavelengths (6.7 and 6.5 µm). The result of adapting the optical constant is an almost perfect match between UTH data measured by HIRS/2 on NOAA-14 and HIRS/3 on NOAA-15 on 1004 common days of operation. The method is applied to both UTH and UTHi. For each case retrieval coefficients are derived.

We present a number of test applications, e.g. on computed brightness temperatures based on high-resolution radiosonde profiles, on the brightness temperatures measured by the satellites on the mentioned 1004 common days of operation. Further, we present time series of the occurrence frequency of high UTHi cases, and we show the overall probability distribution of UTHi. The two latter applications expose indications of moistening of the upper troposphere over the last 35 years.

Finally, we discuss the significance of UTH. We state that UTH algorithms cannot be judged for their correctness or incorrectness, since there is no true UTH. Instead, UTH algorithms should fulfill a number of usefulness postulates, which we suggest and discuss.



Gierens, Klaus / Eleftheratos, Kostas: On the interpretation of upper-tropospheric humidity based on a second-order retrieval from infrared radiances. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


Rechteinhaber: Klaus Gierens

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