An Evaluation of Monthly Rainfall Estimates Derived from SSM/I Over the Tropical Pacific

Wesley Berg and Susan K. Avery

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder


Estimates of monthly rainfall have been computed over the tropical Pacific using passive microwave satellite observations from the special sensor microwave/imager (SSM/I) for the period from July 1987 through December 1990. These monthly estimates are calibrated using data from a network of Pacific atoll rain gauges in order to account for systematic biases and are then compared with several visible and infrared satellite-based rainfall estimation techniques for the purpose of evaluating the performance of the microwave-based estimates. Although several key differences among the various techniques are observed, the general features of the monthly rainfall time series agree very well. Finally, the significant error sources contributing to uncertainties in the monthly estimates are examined and an estimate of the total error is produced. The sampling error characteristics are investigated using data from two SSM/I sensors and a detailed analysis of the characteristics of the diurnal cycle of rainfall over the oceans and its contribution to sampling errors in the monthly SSM/I estimates is made using geosynchronous satellite data. Based on the analysis of the sampling and other error sources the total error was estimated to be of the order of 30 to 50% of the monthly rainfall for estimates averaged over 2.5 by 2.5 degree latitude/longitude boxes, with a contribution due to diurnal variability of the order of 10%.