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Weixing Zhang
Yidong Lou
Jennifer S. Haase
Rui Zhang
Gang Zheng
Jinfang Huang
Chuang Shi
, and
Jingnan Liu


Global positioning system (GPS) data from over 260 ground-based permanent stations in China covering the period from 1 March 1999 to 30 April 2015 were used to estimate precipitable water (PW) above each site with an accuracy of about 0.75 mm. Four types of radiosondes (referred to as GZZ2, GTS1, GTS1-1, and GTS1-2) were used in China during this period. Instrumentation type changes in radiosonde records were identified by comparing PW calculated from GPS and radiosonde data. Systematic errors in different radiosonde types introduced significant biases to the estimated PW trends at stations where more than one radiosonde type was used. Estimating PW trends from reanalysis products (ERA-Interim), which assimilate the unadjusted radiosonde humidity data, resulted in an artificial downward PW trend at almost all stations in China. The statistically significant GPS PW trends are predominantly positive, consistent in sign with the increase in moisture expected from the Clausius–Clapeyron relation due to a global temperature increase. The standard deviations of the differences between ERA-Interim and GPS PW in the summer were 3 times larger than the observational error of GPS PW, suggesting that potentially significant improvements to the reanalysis could be achieved by assimilating denser GPS PW observations over China. This work, based on an entirely independent GPS PW dataset, confirms previously reported significant differences in radiosonde PW trends when using corrected data. Furthermore, the dense geographical coverage of the all-weather GPS PW observations, especially in remote areas in western China, provides a valuable resource for calibrating regional trends in reanalysis products.

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