Precipitation is a major component of the hydrologic cycle and plays a significant role in the sea ice mass balance in the polar regions. Over the Southern Ocean, precipitation is particularly uncertain due to the lack of direct observations in this remote and harsh environment. Here we demonstrate that precipitation estimates from eight global reanalyses produce similar spatial patterns between 2000 and 2010, although their annual means vary by about 250 mm yr−1 (or 26% of the median values) and there is little similarity in their representation of interannual variability. ERA-Interim produces the smallest and CFSR produces the largest amount of precipitation overall. Rainfall and snowfall are partitioned in five reanalyses; snowfall suffers from the same issues as the total precipitation comparison, with ERA-Interim producing about 128 mm less snowfall and JRA-55 about 103 mm more rainfall compared to the other reanalyses. When compared to CloudSat-derived snowfall, these five reanalyses indicate similar spatial patterns, but differ in their magnitude. All reanalyses indicate precipitation on nearly every day of the year, with spurious values occurring on an average of about 60 days yr−1, resulting in an accumulation of about 4.5 mm yr−1. While similarities in spatial patterns among the reanalyses suggest a convergence, the large spread in magnitudes points to issues with the background models in adequately reproducing precipitation rates, and the differences in the model physics employed. Further improvements to model physics are required to achieve confidence in precipitation rate, as well as the phase and frequency of precipitation in these products.

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