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Michael G. Bosilovich, Franklin R. Robertson, and Junye Chen

Abstract

Reanalyses, retrospectively analyzing observations over climatological time scales, represent a merger between satellite observations and models to provide globally continuous data and have improved over several generations. Balancing the earth’s global water and energy budgets has been a focus of research for more than two decades. Models tend to their own climate while remotely sensed observations have had varying degrees of uncertainty. This study evaluates the latest NASA reanalysis, the Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA), from a global water and energy cycles perspective, to place it in context of previous work and demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses.

MERRA was configured to provide complete budgets in its output diagnostics, including the incremental analysis update (IAU), the term that represents the observations influence on the analyzed states, alongside the physical flux terms. Precipitation in reanalyses is typically sensitive to the observational analysis. For MERRA, the global mean precipitation bias and spatial variability are more comparable to merged satellite observations [the Global Precipitation and Climatology Project (GPCP) and Climate Prediction Center Merged Analysis of Precipitation (CMAP)] than previous generations of reanalyses. MERRA ocean evaporation also has a much lower value, which is comparable to independently derived estimate datasets. The global energy budget shows that MERRA cloud effects may be generally weak, leading to excess shortwave radiation reaching the ocean surface.

Evaluating the MERRA time series of budget terms, a significant change occurs that does not appear to be represented in observations. In 1999, the global analysis increments of water vapor changes sign from negative to positive and primarily lead to more oceanic precipitation. This change is coincident with the beginning of Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) radiance assimilation. Previous and current reanalyses all exhibit some sensitivity to perturbations in the observation record, and this remains a significant research topic for reanalysis development. The effect of the changing observing system is evaluated for MERRA water and energy budget terms.

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Mark Decker, Michael A. Brunke, Zhuo Wang, Koichi Sakaguchi, Xubin Zeng, and Michael G. Bosilovich

Abstract

Reanalysis products produced at the various centers around the globe are utilized for many different scientific endeavors, including forcing land surface models and creating surface flux estimates. Here, flux tower observations of temperature, wind speed, precipitation, downward shortwave radiation, net surface radiation, and latent and sensible heat fluxes are used to evaluate the performance of various reanalysis products [NCEP–NCAR reanalysis and Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR) from NCEP; 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40) and ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) from ECMWF; and Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) and Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) from the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)]. To combine the biases and standard deviation of errors from the separate stations, a ranking system is utilized. It is found that ERA-Interim has the lowest overall bias in 6-hourly air temperature, followed closely by MERRA and GLDAS. The variability in 6-hourly air temperature is again most accurate in ERA-Interim. ERA-40 is found to have the lowest overall bias in latent heat flux, followed closely by CFSR, while ERA-40 also has the lowest 6-hourly sensible heat bias. MERRA has the second lowest and is close to ERA-40. The variability in 6-hourly precipitation is best captured by GLDAS and ERA-Interim, and ERA-40 has the lowest precipitation bias. It is also found that at monthly time scales, the bias term in the reanalysis products are the dominant cause of the mean square errors, while at 6-hourly and daily time scales the dominant contributor to the mean square errors is the correlation term. Also, it is found that the hourly CFSR data have discontinuities present due to the assimilation cycle, while the hourly MERRA data do not contain these jumps.

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Franklin R. Robertson, Michael G. Bosilovich, Junye Chen, and Timothy L. Miller

Abstract

Like all reanalysis efforts, the Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) must contend with an inhomogeneous observing network. Here the effects of the two most obvious observing system epoch changes, the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit-A (AMSU-A) series in late 1998 and, to a lesser extent, the earlier advent of the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) in late 1987 are examined. These sensor changes affect model moisture and enthalpy increments and thus water and energy fluxes, since the latter result from model physics processes that respond sensitively to state variable forcing. Inclusion of the analysis increments in the MERRA dataset is a unique feature among reanalyses that facilitates understanding the relationships between analysis forcing and flux response.

In stepwise fashion in time, the vertically integrated global-mean moisture increments change sign from drying to moistening and heating increments drop nearly 15 W m−2 over the 30 plus years of the assimilated products. Regression of flux quantities on an El Niño–Southern Oscillation sea surface temperature (SST) index analysis reveals that this mode of climate variability dominates interannual signals and its leading expression is minimally affected by satellite observing system changes. Conversely, precipitation patterns and other fluxes influenced by SST changes associated with Pacific decadal variability (PDV) are significantly distorted. Observing system changes also induce a nonstationary component to the annual cycle signals.

Principal component regression is found useful for identifying artifacts produced by changes of satellite sensors and defining appropriate adjustments. After the adjustments are applied, the spurious flux trend components are greatly diminished. Time series of the adjusted precipitation and the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) data compare favorably on a global basis. The adjustments also provide a much better depiction of precipitation spatial trends associated with PDV-like forcing. The utility as well as associated drawbacks of this statistical adjustment and the prospects for future improvements of the methodology are discussed.

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J. Brent Roberts, Franklin R. Robertson, Carol A. Clayson, and Michael G. Bosilovich

Abstract

Turbulent fluxes of heat and moisture across the atmosphere–ocean interface are fundamental components of the earth’s energy and water balance. Characterizing both the spatiotemporal variability and the fidelity of these exchanges of heat and moisture is critical to understanding the global water and energy cycle variations, quantifying atmosphere–ocean feedbacks, and improving model predictability. This study examines the veracity of the recently completed NASA Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) product in terms of its turbulent surface fluxes. This assessment employs a large dataset of directly measured turbulent fluxes as well as other turbulent surface flux datasets. The spatial and temporal variability of the surface fluxes are examined in terms of their annual-mean climatologies, their seasonal covariability of near-surface bulk parameters, and their representation of extremes. The impact of data assimilation on the near-surface parameters is assessed through evaluation of the incremental analysis update tendencies. It is found that MERRA turbulent surface fluxes are relatively accurate for typical conditions but have systematically weak vertical gradients in moisture and temperature and a weaker covariability between the near-surface gradients and wind speed than found in observations. This results in an underestimate of the surface latent and sensible heat fluxes over the western boundary current and storm-track regions. The assimilation of observations generally acts to bring MERRA closer to observational products by increasing moisture and temperature near the surface and decreasing the near-surface wind speeds.

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Michele M. Rienecker, Max J. Suarez, Ronald Gelaro, Ricardo Todling, Julio Bacmeister, Emily Liu, Michael G. Bosilovich, Siegfried D. Schubert, Lawrence Takacs, Gi-Kong Kim, Stephen Bloom, Junye Chen, Douglas Collins, Austin Conaty, Arlindo da Silva, Wei Gu, Joanna Joiner, Randal D. Koster, Robert Lucchesi, Andrea Molod, Tommy Owens, Steven Pawson, Philip Pegion, Christopher R. Redder, Rolf Reichle, Franklin R. Robertson, Albert G. Ruddick, Meta Sienkiewicz, and Jack Woollen

Abstract

The Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) was undertaken by NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office with two primary objectives: to place observations from NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites into a climate context and to improve upon the hydrologic cycle represented in earlier generations of reanalyses. Focusing on the satellite era, from 1979 to the present, MERRA has achieved its goals with significant improvements in precipitation and water vapor climatology. Here, a brief overview of the system and some aspects of its performance, including quality assessment diagnostics from innovation and residual statistics, is given.

By comparing MERRA with other updated reanalyses [the interim version of the next ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) and the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR)], advances made in this new generation of reanalyses, as well as remaining deficiencies, are identified. Although there is little difference between the new reanalyses in many aspects of climate variability, substantial differences remain in poorly constrained quantities such as precipitation and surface fluxes. These differences, due to variations both in the models and in the analysis techniques, are an important measure of the uncertainty in reanalysis products. It is also found that all reanalyses are still quite sensitive to observing system changes. Dealing with this sensitivity remains the most pressing challenge for the next generation of reanalyses.

Production has now caught up to the current period and MERRA is being continued as a near-real-time climate analysis. The output is available online through the NASA Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC).

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