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Thermodynamic and Radiative Impact of the Correction of Sounding Humidity Bias in the Tropics

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  • 1 NCAR/ATD, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Accurate measurements of atmospheric water vapor are crucial to many aspects of climate research and atmospheric science. This paper discusses some of the meteorological implications of a bias discovered in the measurement of water vapor in widely deployed radiosonde systems. This problem apparently arose in the early 1990s, and a correction scheme has been recently developed that intends to remove the bias. The correction scheme also includes improvements in the humidity measurements in the upper troposphere and near the surface. It has been applied to data taken during the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Response Experiment (TOGA COARE).

The impact of the bias on the general stability of the tropical atmosphere to deep convection, as measured by the convective available potential energy (CAPE) and the convective inhibition (CIN), is quite large. On the basis of the uncorrected dataset, one might erroneously conclude that it is difficult to trigger deep convection over the region. When the correction is taken into account, the atmosphere over the tropical western Pacific becomes typically unstable to deep convection, with convective instability similar to that measured from aircraft in the vicinity of active convective systems.

Radiative fluxes are also significantly modified. For clear sky conditions, it is found that on average, the net surface radiative flux increases by 4 W m−2, and the outgoing longwave flux decreases by more than 2 W m−2 due to the humidity correction. Under more realistic cloudy conditions, the differences are weaker but still significant. Changes in radiative fluxes are explained at first order by the precipitable water increase.

It is likely that such a dry bias would hide any modifications of the atmospheric water vapor associated with the increase of greenhouse gases.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Françoise Guichard, CNRM-GAME (CNRS & Météo-France), 42 av Coriolis, 31057, Toulouse Cedex, France.

Email: francoise.guichard@meteo.fr

Abstract

Accurate measurements of atmospheric water vapor are crucial to many aspects of climate research and atmospheric science. This paper discusses some of the meteorological implications of a bias discovered in the measurement of water vapor in widely deployed radiosonde systems. This problem apparently arose in the early 1990s, and a correction scheme has been recently developed that intends to remove the bias. The correction scheme also includes improvements in the humidity measurements in the upper troposphere and near the surface. It has been applied to data taken during the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Response Experiment (TOGA COARE).

The impact of the bias on the general stability of the tropical atmosphere to deep convection, as measured by the convective available potential energy (CAPE) and the convective inhibition (CIN), is quite large. On the basis of the uncorrected dataset, one might erroneously conclude that it is difficult to trigger deep convection over the region. When the correction is taken into account, the atmosphere over the tropical western Pacific becomes typically unstable to deep convection, with convective instability similar to that measured from aircraft in the vicinity of active convective systems.

Radiative fluxes are also significantly modified. For clear sky conditions, it is found that on average, the net surface radiative flux increases by 4 W m−2, and the outgoing longwave flux decreases by more than 2 W m−2 due to the humidity correction. Under more realistic cloudy conditions, the differences are weaker but still significant. Changes in radiative fluxes are explained at first order by the precipitable water increase.

It is likely that such a dry bias would hide any modifications of the atmospheric water vapor associated with the increase of greenhouse gases.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Françoise Guichard, CNRM-GAME (CNRS & Météo-France), 42 av Coriolis, 31057, Toulouse Cedex, France.

Email: francoise.guichard@meteo.fr

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