Measurement characteristics of an airborne microwave temperature profiler (MTP)

Heckl, Mareike; Fix, Andreas; Jirousek, Matthias; Schreier, Franz; Xu, Jian; Rapp, Markus

The microwave temperature profiler (MTP), an airborne passive microwave radiometer, measures radiances, recorded as counts and calibrated to brightness temperatures, in order to estimate temperature profiles around flight altitude. From these data, quantities such as potential temperature gradients and static stability, indicating the state of the atmosphere, can be derived and used to assess important dynamical processes (e.g., gravity waves or stability assessments). DLR has acquired a copy of the MTP from NASA–JPL, which was designed as a wing-canister instrument and is deployed on the German High Altitude LOng range research aircraft (HALO). For this instrument a thorough analysis of instrument characteristics has been made in order to correctly determine the accuracy and precision of MTP measurements.

Using a laboratory setup, the frequency response function and antenna diagram of the instrument were carefully characterized. A cold chamber was used to simulate the changing in-flight conditions and to derive noise characteristics as well as reliable calibration parameters for brightness temperature calculations, which are compared to those calculated from campaign data.

The MTP shows quite large changes in the instrument state, imposing considerable changes in calibration parameters over the course of a single measurement flight; using a built-in heated target for calibration may yield large errors in brightness temperatures due to a misinterpretation of the measured absolute temperature. Applying the corrections presented herein to the calibration parameter calculations, the measurement noise becomes the dominant source of uncertainty and it is possible to measure the brightness temperatures around flight level (closely related to the absolute temperature close to the instrument) with a precision of 0.38 K. Furthermore, radiative transfer simulations, using the Py4CAtS package in a pencil-beam approach, indicate that the altitude range of the sensitivity of the MTP instrument can be increased by applying a modified measurement strategy.

This is the first time such an extensive characterization of an MTP instrument, including a thorough calibration strategy assessment, has been published. The presented results, relevant for the wing-canister design of the MTP instrument, are important when processing MTP data: knowledge of the relevant uncertainties and instrument characteristics is essential for retrieval setup and is mandatory to correctly identify and interpret significant atmospheric temperature fluctuations.

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Heckl, Mareike / Fix, Andreas / Jirousek, Matthias / et al: Measurement characteristics of an airborne microwave temperature profiler (MTP). 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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