Science Update: SPARC Data Initiative: Comparison of water vapour climatologies from satellite limb sounders

Some of the first results from the SPARC Data Initiative to be published, this new article by M.I. Hegglin and co-authors in JGR compares the water vapour climatologies from various satellite limb sounders for the period 1978-2010. Monthly zonal means from LIMS, SAGE II, UARS-MLS, HALOE, POAM III, SMR, SAGE III, MIPAS, SCIAMACHY, ACE-FTS, and Aura-MLS were calculated on a common latitude-pressure grid and then compared with the multi-instrument mean. Evaluations include comparisons of monthly or annual zonal mean cross-sections and seasonal cycles in the tropical and extra-tropical upper troposphere and stratosphere, comparisons of interannual variability, and the study of features such as the water vapour tape recorder. The instruments agree best in the mid-latitude and tropical middle and lower stratosphere, with a relative uncertainty of ±2–6% (as quantified by the standard deviation of the instruments’ multi-annual means). The uncertainty increases toward the polar regions (±10–15%), the mesosphere (±15%), and the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere below 100 hPa (±30–50%), where sampling issues add uncertainty due to large gradients and high natural variability in water vapour. The knowledge gained from these comparisons and regarding the quality of the individual data sets in different regions of the atmosphere will help to improve model-measurement comparisons (e.g., for diagnostics such as the tropical tape recorder or seasonal cycles), data merging activities, and studies of climate variability. The full abstract can be found here.