Why scanning instruments are a necessity for constraining temperature and humidity fields in the lower atmosphere

David Themens*, Frédéric Fabry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The ability of different ground-based measurement strategies for constraining thermodynamic variables in the troposphere, particularly at the mesoscale, is investigated. First, a preliminary assessment of the capability of pure-vertical sounders for constraining temperature and water vapor fields in clear-sky conditions to current accuracy requirements is presented. Using analyses over one month from the Rapid Refresh model as input to an optimal estimation technique, it is shown that the horizontal density of a network of nonexisting, ideal vertical profiling instruments must be greater than 30 km in order to achieve accuracies of 0.5 g kg-1 for water vapor and 0.5 K for temperature. Then, an assessment of a scanning microwave radiometer's capability for retrieving water vapor and temperature fields in a cloud-free environment over two- and three-dimensional mesoscale domains is also presented. The information content of an elevation and azimuthal scanning microwave radiometer is assessed using the same optimal estimation framework. Even though, in any specific pointing direction, the scanning radiometer does not provide much information, it is capable of providing considerably more constraints on thermodynamic fields, particularly water vapor, than a near-perfect vertical sounder. These constraints on water vapor are largely located within 80 km of the radiometer and between 1000- and 7000-m altitude, while temperature constraints are limited to within 35 km of the instrument at altitudes between the ground and 1500 m. The findings suggest that measurements from scanning radiometers will be needed to properly constrain the temperature and especially moisture fields to accuracies needed for mesoscale forecasting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2462-2481
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2014


  • Boundary layer
  • Inverse methods
  • Mesoscale processes
  • Microwave observations
  • Remote sensing
  • Sensitivity studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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