Sampling Errors of SSM/I and TRMM Rainfall Averages: Comparison with Error Estimates from Surface Data and a Simple Model

Thomas L. Bell, Prasun K. Kundu, and Christian D. Kummerow

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland


Quantitative use of satellite-derived maps of monthly rainfall requires some measure of the accuracy of the satellite estimates. The rainfall estimate for a given map grid box is subject to both remote sensing error and, especially in the case of low-orbiting satellites, sampling error due to the limited number of observations of the grid box provided by the satellite. A simple model of rain behavior predicts that rms random error in grid-box averages should depend in a simple way on the local average rain rate, and the predicted behavior has been seen in simulations using surface rain gauge and radar data. This relationship is examined using Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) satellite data obtained over the western equatorial Pacific during the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Response Experiment. Rms error inferred directly from SSM/I rainfall estimates is found to be larger than was predicted from surface data and to depend less on local rain rate than was predicted. Preliminary examination of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) microwave estimates shows better agreement with surface data. A simple method of estimating rms error in satellite rainfall estimates is suggested, based on quantities that can be computed directly from the satellite data.