Rainfall Climate Regimes: The Relationship of Regional TRMM Rainfall Biases to the Environment

Wesley Berg, Tristan L'Ecuyer, and Christian Kummerow

Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado


Intercomparisons of satellite rainfall products have historically focused on the issue of global mean biases. Regional and temporal variations in these biases, however, are equally important for many climate applications. This has led to a critical examination of rainfall estimates from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI) and precipitation radar (PR). Because of the time-dependent nature of these biases, it is not possible to apply corrections based on regionally defined characteristics. Instead, this paper seeks to relate PR–TMI differences to physical variables that can lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the observed differences. To simplify the analysis, issues related to differences in rainfall detection and intensity are investigated separately. For clouds identified as raining by both sensors, differences in rainfall intensity are found to be highly correlated with column water vapor. Adjusting either TMI or PR rain rates based on this simple relationship, which is relatively invariant over both seasonal and interannual time scales, results in a 65%–75% reduction in the rms difference between seasonally averaged climate rainfall estimates. Differences in rainfall detection are most prominent along the midlatitude storm tracks, where widespread, isolated convection trailing frontal systems is often detected only by the higher-resolution PR. Conversely, over the East China Sea clouds below the ~18-dBZ PR rainfall detection threshold are frequently identified as raining by the TMI. Calculations based on in situ aerosol data collected south of Japan support a hypothesis that high concentrations of sulfate aerosols may contribute to abnormally high liquid water contents within nonprecipitating clouds in this region.