Atmospheric Latent Heating Distributions in the Tropics Derived from Satellite Passive Microwave Radiometer Measurements

William S. Olson

JCET/University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland

Christian D. Kummerow

Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Branch, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Ye Hong

Caelum Research Corporation, Rockville, Maryland

Wei-Kuo Tao

Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Branch, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland


A method for the remote sensing of three-dimensional latent heating distributions in precipitating tropical weather systems from satellite passive microwave observations is presented. In this method, cloud model simulated hydrometeor/latent heating vertical profiles that have radiative characteristics consistent with a given set of multispectral microwave radiometric observations are composited to create a best estimate of the observed profile. An estimate of the areal coverage of convective precipitation within the radiometer footprint is used as an additional constraint on the contributing model profiles. This constraint leads to more definitive retrieved profiles of precipitation and latent heating in synthetic data tests.

The remote sensing method is applied to Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) observations of tropical systems that occurred during the TOGA COARE Intensive Observing Period, and to observations of Hurricane Andrew (1992). Although instantaneous estimates of rain rates are high-biased with respect to coincident radar rain estimates, precipitation patterns are reasonably correlated with radar patterns, and composite rain rate and latent heating profiles show respectable agreement with estimates from forecast models and heat and moisture budget calculations. Uncertainties in the remote sensing estimates of precipitation/latent heating may be partly attributed to the relatively low spatial resolution of the SSM/I and a lack of microwave sensitivity to tenuous anvil cloud, for which upper-tropospheric latent heating rates may be significant. Estimated latent heating distributions in Hurricane Andrew exhibit an upper-level heating maximum that strengthens as the storm undergoes a period of intensification.