A satellite-derived lower tropospheric atmospheric temperature dataset using an optimized adjustment for diurnal effects
Carl A. Mears and Frank J. Wentz
Remote Sensing Systems, 444 Tenth Street, Santa Rosa, CA, 95401
I quoted from the abstract in my previous post.
The changes are described in those links, and are not surprising, given the previous datasets (eg TMT, TTT) that have come out in V4. I thought here I would just show a comparison of recent changes in both UAH and RSS - they are rather complementary. In the graph below, I have converted RSS from 1979-1999 to the UAH base of 1981-2010. I use reddish for UAH, bluish for RSS (12 month running mean):
The effect of the change is clearer if a common measure is subtracted - I use the average of the four sets here for that:
Now you can see what has happened. RSS TLT V4 is close to UAH V5.6, and UAH V6 is close to the old RSS V3.3 (which RSS described as having a known cooling bias). As they noted, the new RSS V4 shows more uniformity over time. The overall picture is that TLT measures are not stable; much less so than surface measures, as I noted here.
Contrary to some (mainly sceptic) opinion, satellite measures are not naturally superior. Measuring the temperature at various levels of the troposphere is a worthwhile endeavour, but it is not a substitute for surface. In fact, I think TLT has had undeserved prominence, and I rather thought RSS should drop it altogether. It is an attempt to get as close to surface as possible, but it isn't very close, and sacrifices much reliability in trying to get there. I notice the John Christy now usually quotes UAH TMT.
The reason for loss of reliability is that the MSU is trying to make deductions from a microwave signal which is a mix of various layers in the troposphere, with a large background noise generated at the surface. It is hard to discriminate, and harder as you try to see closer to the surface. They try to get around this by taking two measures designed for higher levels (TMT and, for UAH, a tropopause level TP), and forming a linear combination which is designed to subtract out the higher troposphere and stratosphere levels. But as with any such differencing, errors increase.
People have the idea that satellites just have to be better, because they can survey the whole Earth with one instrument. But that is far from true. The downsides are described in this UAH overview and the various RSS papers, and include:
- There is only one instrument, or at most a few, while at the surface there are thousands, creating lots of redundancy. One consequence is that with satellites there is a big problem with the inevitable changeovers. Surface stations needd some adjustment when the instruments or environments change but that is minor compared with changing the whole instrument base every few years.
- The instrument doesn't read a thermometer at every level. It has to resolve a mixed incoming microwave beam, confounded with surface noise. You can get some resolution with frequency bands, and a little more with differing angles of view. But it is really squinting, and in the end you have to solve an inverse problem, which takes adventurous mathematics.
- The instrument gives a snapshot just twice a day. At surface, even the old min/max thermometers, though read only once, continuously monitored the minn and max for 24 hours, and of course now we have thousands of stations recording at high frequency. A problem with twice a day is that you have to make adjustments for what time of day it is, because of diurnal variation. And that diurnal pattern depends on the level (not clearly known), season etc. A hard enough problem, but the big one is
- diurnal drift. It isn't the same time every day, due to orbit changes, and they seem to have trouble deciding exactly what time it is. Roy Spencer says of V6:
For example, years ago we could use certain AMSU-carrying satellites which minimized the effect of diurnal drift, which we did not explicitly correct for. That is no longer possible, and an explicit correction for diurnal drift is now necessary. The correction for diurnal drift is difficult to do well, and we have been committed to it being empirically–based, partly to provide an alternative to the RSS satellite dataset which uses a climate model for the diurnal drift adjustment.
It is a long standing bugbear, and much of the RSS change also seems to be in the drift correction. From their paper abstract:
Previous versions of this dataset used general circulation model output to remove the effects of drifting local measurement time on the measured temperatures. In this paper, we present a method to optimize these adjustments using information from the satellite measurements themselves. The new method finds a global-mean land diurnal cycle that peaks later in the afternoon, leading to improved agreement between measurements made by co-orbiting satellites.
Those are just some of the problems which lead to such large version changes.
Update: From a tweet from Carl Mears, here is a useful FAQ on the changes.
Further: David asked below about comparison with radiosondes. That FAQ has a diagram showing the comparison:
It is sat - sondes, so when you see in this century that the plot goes down, it means that radiosondes are showing more warming that satellites. With UAHV6.0 it is a lot more; with RSS TLT V4 it is closer, but sondes still show more warming. As the FAQ says:
"Note that all satellite data warm relative to radiosondes before about 2000, and then cool after about 2000. We don't know if this overall pattern is due to problems with the radiosonde data, with the satellite data or (most likely) both."