A comparison of the impact of TOVS and ATOVS satellite sounding data on the accuracy of numerical weather forecasts

S. J. English, R. J. Renshaw, P. C. Dibben, A. J. Smith, P. J. Rayer, C. Poulsen, F. W. Saunders, J. R. Eyre

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The Advanced TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder (ATOVS) was launched on the NOAA-15 satellite in May 1998. This provided a very significant improvement in the information available from meteorological polar-orbiting satellites compared with the previous TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder system, particularly for humidity and vertical resolution of temperature in cloudy areas. In preparation for assimilation of the observations into a three-dimensional analysis of atmospheric temperature and humidity, the observations have been compared with calculated top-of-atmosphere brightness temperatures computed from numerical weather prediction model profiles of temperature and humidity. Differences between observed and modelled brightness temperature are small. In some parts of the tropics and northern hemisphere the standard deviation of these differences for the tropospheric Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit sounding channels is only marginally higher than the radiometric noise of the observations. Early in 1999 a series of observation-system experiments were completed in which ATOVS observations were assimilated using a one-dimensional variational analysis. No use of the new humidity information could be made because of interference problems experienced by the microwave humidity sounder on ATOVS. Nonetheless, these experiments showed that the assimilation of the new temperature information provided by the radiance observations reduces forecast errors by as much as 20% in the southern hemisphere and 5% in the northern hemisphere. Further improvements have been found by assimilating more data over land. The major impact arises from the microwave channels. Whilst forward-model errors may be slightly lower for the microwave channels than the infrared channels the primary reason is the provision of sounding information in active weather systems, which are usually cloudy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2911-2931
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number569
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • 1D-var 3D-var
  • Data assimilation
  • Numerical weather prediction
  • Satellite sounding

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