Assessing the quality of humidity measurements from global operational radiosonde sensors

Isaac Moradi, Brian Soden, Ralph Ferraro, Phillip Arkin, Holger Vömel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The quality of humidity measurements from global operational radiosonde sensors in upper, middle, and lower troposphere for the period 2000-2011 were investigated using satellite observations from three microwave water vapor channels operating at 183.31±1, 183.31±3, and 183.31±7 GHz. The radiosonde data were partitioned based on sensor type into 19 classes. The satellite brightness temperatures (Tb) were simulated using radiosonde profiles and a radiative transfer model, then the radiosonde simulated Tb's were compared with the observed Tb's from the satellites. The surface affected Tb's were excluded from the comparison due to the lack of reliable surface emissivity data at the microwave frequencies. Daytime and nighttime data were examined separately to see the possible effect of daytime radiation bias on the sonde data. The error characteristics among different radiosondes vary significantly, which largely reflects the differences in sensor type. These differences are more evident in the mid-upper troposphere than in the lower troposphere, mainly because some of the sensors stop responding to tropospheric humidity somewhere in the upper or even in the middle troposphere. In the upper troposphere, most sensors have a dry bias but Russian sensors and a few other sensors including GZZ2, VZB2, and RS80H have a wet bias. In middle troposphere, Russian sensors still have a wet bias but all other sensors have a dry bias. All sensors, including Russian sensors, have a dry bias in lower troposphere. The systematic and random errors generally decrease from upper to lower troposphere. Sensors from China, India, Russia, and the U.S. have a large random error in upper troposphere, which indicates that these sensors are not suitable for upper tropospheric studies as they fail to respond to humidity changes in the upper and even middle troposphere. Overall, Vaisala sensors perform better than other sensors throughout the troposphere exhibiting the smallest systematic and random errors. Because of the large differences between different radiosonde humidity sensors, it is important for long-term trend studies to only use data measured using a single type of sensor at any given station. If multiple sensor types are used then it is necessary to consider the bias between sensor types and its possible dependence on humidity and temperature. Key Points Investigating the quality of operational radiosonde humidity profiles Most humidity sensors fail to measure mid-upper tropospheric humidity Ddifferent radiosonde sensors introduce temporal and spatial inhomogeneity

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8040-8053
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 27 2013


  • microwave remote sensing
  • radiative transfer
  • radiosonde data
  • satellite data
  • tropospheric humidity
  • water vapor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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