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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 16, issue 13 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 8331-8339, 2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 11 Jul 2016

Research article | 11 Jul 2016

Representativeness of total column water vapour retrievals from instruments on polar orbiting satellites

Hannes Diedrich, Falco Wittchen, René Preusker, and Jürgen Fischer Hannes Diedrich et al.
  • Institut für Weltraumwissenchaften, Freie Universität Berlin, Carl-Heinrich-Becker-Weg 6–10, 12165 Berlin, Germany

Abstract. The remote sensing of total column water vapour (TCWV) from polar orbiting, sun-synchronous satellite spectrometers such as the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) on board of ENVISAT and the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board of Aqua and Terra enables observations on a high spatial resolution and a high accuracy over land surfaces. The observations serve studies about small-scale variations of water vapour as well as the detection of local and global trends. However, depending on the swath width of the sensor, the temporal sampling is low and the observations of TCWV are limited to cloud-free land scenes.

This study quantifies the representativeness of a single TCWV observation at the time of the satellite overpass under cloud-free conditions by investigating the diurnal cycle of TCWV using 9 years of a 2-hourly TCWV data set from global GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) stations. It turns out that the TCWV observed at 10:30 local time (LT) is generally lower than the daily mean TCWV by 0.65mm (4%) on average for cloud-free cases. Averaging over all GNSS stations, the monthly mean TCWV at 10:30LT, constrained to cases that are cloud-free, is 5mm (25%) lower than the monthly mean TCWV at 10:30LT of all cases. Additionally, the diurnal variability of TCWV is assessed. For the majority of GNSS stations, the amplitude of the averaged diurnal cycle ranges between 1 and 5% of the daily mean with a minimum between 06:00 and 10:00LT and maximum between 16:00 and 20:00LT. However, a high variability of TCWV on an individual day is detected. On average, the TCWV standard deviation is about 15% regarding the daily mean.

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As water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas, the remote sensing of total column water vapour (TCWV) is an important part of climate research. The remote sensing from polar orbiting, sun-synchronous satellites has some limitations. This study investigates the representativeness of observations from space regarding these limitations. The mean daily variability of the diurnal cycle of TCWV was quantified using a water vapour data set from ground-based observations.
As water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas, the remote sensing of total column water...