Articles | Volume 7, issue 2
Review article
08 Dec 2015
Review article |  | 08 Dec 2015

The CM SAF ATOVS data record: overview of methodology and evaluation of total column water and profiles of tropospheric humidity

N. Courcoux and M. Schröder

Abstract. Recently, the reprocessed Advanced Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS)-N Operational Vertical Sounder (ATOVS) tropospheric water vapour and temperature data record was released by the EUMETSAT Satellite Application Facility on Climate Monitoring (CM~SAF). ATOVS observations from infrared and microwave sounders onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA)-15–19 satellites and EUMETSAT's Meteorological Operational (Metop-A) satellite have been consistently reprocessed to generate 13 years (1999–2011) of global water vapour and temperature daily and monthly means with a spatial resolution of 90 km × 90 km. The data set is referenced under the following digital object identifier (DOI): doi:10.5676/EUM_SAF_CM/WVT_ATOVS/V001. After preprocessing, a maximum likelihood solution scheme was applied to the observations to simultaneously infer temperature and water vapour profiles. In a post-processing step, an objective interpolation method (Kriging) was applied to allow for gap filling. The product suite includes total precipitable water vapour (TPW), layer-integrated precipitable water vapour (LPW) and layer mean temperature for five tropospheric layers between the surface and 200 hPa, as well as specific humidity and temperature at six tropospheric levels between 1000 and 200 hPa. To our knowledge, this is the first time that the ATOVS record (1998–now) has been consistently reprocessed (1999–2011) to retrieve water vapour. TPW and LPW products were compared to corresponding products from the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Upper-Air Network (GUAN) radiosonde observations and from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) version 5 satellite data record. TPW shows a good agreement with the GUAN radiosonde data: average bias and root mean square error (RMSE) are −0.2 and 3.3 kg m−2, respectively. For LPW, the maximum absolute (relative) bias and RMSE values decrease (increase) strongly with height. The maximum bias and RMSE are found at the lowest layer and are −0.7 and 2.5 kg m−2, respectively. While the RMSE relative to AIRS is generally smaller, the TPW bias relative to AIRS is larger, with dominant contributions from precipitating areas. The consistently reprocessed ATOVS data record exhibits improved quality and stability relative to the operational CM SAF products when compared to the TPW from GUAN radiosonde data over the period 2004–2011. Finally, it became evident that the change in the number of satellites used for the retrieval combined with the use of the Kriging leads to breakpoints in the ATOVS data record; therefore, a variability analysis of the data record is not recommended for the time period from January 1999 to January 2001.

Short summary
Despite its great importance for the climate, the behaviour and content of water vapour in the troposphere is insufficiently known. The ATOVS instruments onboard polar-orbiting satellites allow the retrieval of water vapour at different altitudes and on global scale. Here a consistent reprocessing of water vapour products derived from the ATOVS instrument from 1999 to 2011 is presented and compared to time series derived from other instruments. The data are freely available at