The Distribution of Rainfall over Oceans from Spaceborne Radars

Wesley Berg and Tristan L'Ecuyer

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

John M. Haynes

School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia


A combination of rainfall estimates from the 13.8-GHz Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) precipitation radar (PR) and the 94-GHz CloudSat Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR) is used to assess the distribution of rainfall intensity over tropical and subtropical oceans. These two spaceborne radars provide highly complementary information: the PR provides the best information on the total rain volume because of its ability to estimate the intensity of all but the lightest rain rates while the CPR's higher sensitivity provides superior rainfall detection as well as estimates of drizzle and light rain. Over the TRMM region between 35°S and 35°N, rainfall frequency from the CPR is around 9%, approximately 2.5 times that detected by the PR, and the CPR estimates indicate a contribution by light rain that is undetected by the PR of around 10% of the total. Stratifying the results by total precipitable water (TPW) as a proxy for rainfall regime indicates dramatic differences over stratus-dominated subsidence regions, with nearly 20% of the total rain occurring as light rain. Over moist tropical regions, the CPR substantially underestimates rain from intense convective storms because of large attenuation and multiple-scattering effects while the PR misses very little of the total rain volume because of a lower relative contribution from light rain. Over low-TPW regions, however, inconsistencies between estimates from the PR and the CPR point to uncertainties in the algorithm assumptions that remain to be understood and addressed.