Atmospheric sounding or atmospheric profiling is a measurement of vertical distribution of physical properties of the atmospheric column such as pressure, temperature, wind speed and wind direction (thus deriving wind shear), liquid water content, ozone concentration, pollution, and other properties. Such measurements are performed in a variety of ways including remote sensing and in situ observations.
An atmosphere is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in place by the gravity of that body. An atmosphere is more likely to be retained if the gravity it is subject to is high and the temperature of the atmosphere is low.
Atmospheric pressure, sometimes also called barometric pressure, is the pressure within the atmosphere of Earth. The standard atmosphere is a unit of pressure defined as 1013.25 mbar (101325 Pa), equivalent to 760 mmHg (torr), 29.9212 inches Hg, or 14.696 psi. The atm unit is roughly equivalent to the mean sea-level atmospheric pressure on Earth, that is, the Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level is approximately 1 atm.
Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), in which temperature is one of the seven fundamental base quantities. The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.
The most common in situ sounding is a radiosonde, which usually is a weather balloon, but can also be a rocketsonde.
A radiosonde is a battery-powered telemetry instrument carried into the atmosphere usually by a weather balloon that measures various atmospheric parameters and transmits them by radio to a ground receiver. Modern radiosondes measure or calculate the following variables: altitude, pressure, temperature, relative humidity, wind, cosmic ray readings at high altitude and geographical position (latitude/longitude). Radiosondes measuring ozone concentration are known as ozonesondes.
A weather or sounding balloon is a balloon that carries instruments aloft to send back information on atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed by means of a small, expendable measuring device called a radiosonde. To obtain wind data, they can be tracked by radar, radio direction finding, or navigation systems. Balloons meant to stay at a constant altitude for long periods of time are known as transosondes. Weather balloons that do not carry an instrument pack are used to determine upper-level winds and the height of cloud layers. For such balloons, a theodolite or total station is used to track the balloon's azimuth and elevation, which are then converted to estimated wind speed and direction and/or cloud height, as applicable.
Remote sensing soundings generally use passive infrared and microwave radiometers:
Infrared radiation (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with longer wavelengths than those of visible light, and is therefore generally invisible to the human eye, although IR at wavelengths up to 1050 nanometers (nm)s from specially pulsed lasers can be seen by humans under certain conditions. IR wavelengths extend from the nominal red edge of the visible spectrum at 700 nanometers, to 1 millimeter (300 GHz). Most of the thermal radiation emitted by objects near room temperature is infrared. As with all EMR, IR carries radiant energy and behaves both like a wave and like its quantum particle, the photon.
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.
A radiometer or roentgenometer is a device for measuring the radiant flux (power) of electromagnetic radiation. Generally, a radiometer is an infrared radiation detector or an ultraviolet detector. Microwave radiometers operate in the microwave wavelengths.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The US$720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The mission is managed by the California Institute of Technology, at the JPL, in Pasadena, California, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase. As MRO entered orbit, it joined five other active spacecraft that were either in orbit or on the planet's surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, 2001 Mars Odyssey, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers ; at the time, this set a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and the rover Spirit have since ceased to function. Opportunity has remained silent since June 10, 2018, and NASA declared its mission complete on February 13, 2019. As of that date, 2001 Mars Odyssey and MRO continue to remain operational.
Sensors that measure atmospheric constituents directly, such as thermometers, barometers, and humidity sensors, can be sent aloft on balloons, rockets or dropsondes. They can also be carried on the outer hulls of ships and aircraft or even mounted on towers. In this case, all that is needed to capture the measurements are storage devices and/or transponders.
A dropsonde is an expendable weather reconnaissance device created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), designed to be dropped from an aircraft at altitude over water to measure storm conditions as the device falls to the surface. The sonde contains a GPS receiver, along with pressure, temperature, and humidity (PTH) sensors to capture atmospheric profiles and thermodynamic data. It typically relays these data to a computer in the aircraft by radio transmission.
In telecommunication, a transponder is a device that, upon receiving a signal, emits a different signal in response. The term is a portmanteau for transmitter-responder. It is variously abbreviated as XPDR, XPNDR, TPDR or TP.
The more challenging case involves sensors, primarily satellite-mounted, such as radiometers, optical sensors, radar, lidar and ceilometer as well as sodar since these cannot measure the quantity of interest, such as temperature, pressure, humidity etc., directly. By understanding emission and absorption processes, we can figure out what the instrument is looking at between the layers of atmosphere. While this type of instrument can also be operated from ground stations or vehicles—optical methods can also be used inside in situ instruments—satellite instruments are particularly important because of their extensive, regular coverage. The AMSU instruments on three NOAA and two EUMETSAT satellites, for instance, can sample the entire globe at better than one degree resolution in less than a day.
Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.
Lidar is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3-D representations of the target. The name lidar, now used as an acronym of light detection and ranging, was originally a portmanteau of light and radar. Lidar sometimes is called 3D laser scanning, a special combination of a 3D scanning and laser scanning. It has terrestrial, airborne, and mobile applications.
A ceilometer is a device that uses a laser or other light source to determine the height of a cloud ceiling or cloud base. Ceilometers can also be used to measure the aerosol concentration within the atmosphere. When based on laser, it is a type of atmospheric lidar.
We can distinguish between two broad classes of sensor: active, such as radar, that have their own source, and passive that only detect what is already there. There can be a variety of sources for a passive instrument, including scattered radiation, light emitted directly from the sun, moon or stars—both more appropriate in the visual or ultra-violet range—as well light emitted from warm objects, which is more appropriate in the microwave and infrared.
A limb sounder looks at the edge of the atmosphere where it is visible above the Earth. It does this in one of two ways: either it tracks the sun, moon, a star, or another transmitting satellite through the limb as the source gets occultated behind the Earth, or it looks towards empty space, collecting radiation that is scattered from one of these sources. In contrast, a nadir-looking atmospheric sounder looks down through the atmosphere at the surface. The SCIAMACHY instrument operates in all three of these modes.
The following applies mainly to passive sensors, but has some applicability to active sensors.
Typically, there is a vector of values of the quantity to be retrieved, , called the state vector and a vector of measurements, . The state vector could be temperatures, ozone number densities, humidities etc. The measurement vector is typically counts, radiances or brightness temperatures from a radiometer or similar detector but could include any other quantity germain to the problem. The forward model maps the state vector to the measurement vector:
Usually the mapping, , is known from physical first principles, but this may not always be the case. Instead, it may only be known empirically, by matching actual measurements with actual states. Satellite and many other remote sensing instruments do not measure the relevant physical properties, that is the state, but rather the amount of radiation emitted in a particular direction, at a particular frequency. It is usually easy to go from the state space to the measurement space—for instance with Beer's law or radiative transfer—but not the other way around, therefore we need some method of inverting or of finding the inverse model, .
If the problem is linear we can use some type of matrix inverse method—often the problem is ill-posed or unstable so we will need to regularize it: good, simple methods include the normal equation or singular value decomposition. If the problem is weakly nonlinear, an iterative method such Newton-Raphson may be appropriate.
Sometimes the physics is too complicated to model accurately or the forward model too slow to be used effectively in the inverse method. In this case, statistical or machine learning methods such as linear regression, neural networks, statistical classification, kernel estimation, etc. can be used to form an inverse model based on a collection of ordered pairs of samples mapping the state space to the measurement space, that is, . These can be generated either from models—e.g. state vectors from dynamical models and measurement vectors from radiative transfer or similar forward models—or from direct, empirical measurement. Other times when a statistical method might be more appropriate include highly nonlinear problems.
Satellite temperature measurements are inferences of the temperature of the atmosphere at various altitudes as well as sea and land surface temperatures obtained from radiometric measurements by satellites. These measurements can be used to locate weather fronts, monitor the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, determine the strength of tropical cyclones, study urban heat islands and monitor the global climate. Wildfires, volcanos, and industrial hot spots can also be found via thermal imaging from weather satellites.
In machine learning, support-vector machines are supervised learning models with associated learning algorithms that analyze data used for classification and regression analysis. Given a set of training examples, each marked as belonging to one or the other of two categories, an SVM training algorithm builds a model that assigns new examples to one category or the other, making it a non-probabilistic binary linear classifier. A SVM model is a representation of the examples as points in space, mapped so that the examples of the separate categories are divided by a clear gap that is as wide as possible. New examples are then mapped into that same space and predicted to belong to a category based on which side of the gap they fall.
Envisat is a large inactive Earth-observing satellite which is still in orbit. Operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), it was the world's largest civilian Earth observation satellite.
A microwave radiometer (MWR) is a radiometer that measures energy emitted at millimetre-to-centimetre wavelengths known as microwaves. Microwave radiometers are very sensitive receivers designed to measure thermal electromagnetic radiation emitted by atmospheric gases. They are usually equipped with multiple receiving channels in order to derive the characteristic emission spectrum of the atmosphere or extraterrestrial objects. Microwave radiometers are utilized in a variety of environmental and engineering applications, including weather forecasting, climate monitoring, radio astronomy and radio propagation studies.
Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with the object and thus in contrast to on-site observation, especially the Earth. Remote sensing is used in numerous fields, including geography, land surveying and most Earth Science disciplines ; it also has military, intelligence, commercial, economic, planning, and humanitarian applications.
Atmospheric physics is the application of physics to the study of the atmosphere. Atmospheric physicists attempt to model Earth's atmosphere and the atmospheres of the other planets using fluid flow equations, chemical models, radiation budget, and energy transfer processes in the atmosphere. In order to model weather systems, atmospheric physicists employ elements of scattering theory, wave propagation models, cloud physics, statistical mechanics and spatial statistics which are highly mathematical and related to physics. It has close links to meteorology and climatology and also covers the design and construction of instruments for studying the atmosphere and the interpretation of the data they provide, including remote sensing instruments. At the dawn of the space age and the introduction of sounding rockets, aeronomy became a subdiscipline concerning the upper layers of the atmosphere, where dissociation and ionization are important.
Aqua is a NASA scientific research satellite in orbit around the Earth, studying the precipitation, evaporation, and cycling of water. It is the second major component of the Earth Observing System (EOS) preceded by Terra and followed by Aura.
The Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) is a seven-channel, four-frequency, linearly polarized passive microwave radiometer system. It is flown on board the United States Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Block 5D-2 satellites. The instrument measures surface/atmospheric microwave brightness temperatures (TBs) at 19.35, 22.235, 37.0 and 85.5 GHz. The four frequencies are sampled in both horizontal and vertical polarizations, except the 22 GHz which is sampled in the vertical only.
Limited-memory BFGS is an optimization algorithm in the family of quasi-Newton methods that approximates the Broyden–Fletcher–Goldfarb–Shanno (BFGS) algorithm using a limited amount of computer memory. It is a popular algorithm for parameter estimation in machine learning. The algorithm's target problem is to minimize over unconstrained values of the real-vector where is a differentiable scalar function.
The atmospheric infrared sounder (AIRS) is one of six instruments flying on board NASA's Aqua satellite, launched on May 4, 2002. The instrument is designed to support climate research and improve weather forecasting.
The Humidity Sounder for Brazil (HSB) was an instrument launched on NASA's Earth Observing System satellite Aqua launched in May 2002. It was a four-channel passive microwave radiometer, with one channel at 150 GHz and three channels at 183 GHz. It was very similar in design to the AMSU-B instrument, except it lacked the 89 GHz surface sounding channel. It was intended to study profiles of atmospheric water vapor and provide improved input data to the cloud-clearing algorithms in the Unified AIRS Retrieval Suite, but the scan mirror motor failed on February 5, 2003. It worked with the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder and AMSU-A to form the AIRS Sounding Suite.
Meteorological instruments are the equipment used to sample the state of the atmosphere at a given time. Each science has its own unique sets of laboratory equipment. Meteorology, however, is a science which does not use much lab equipment but relies more on on-site observation and remote sensing equipment. In science, an observation, or observable, is an abstract idea that can be measured and for which data can be taken. Rain was one of the first quantities to be measured historically. Two other accurately measured weather-related variables are wind and humidity. Many attempts had been made prior to the 15th century to construct adequate equipment to measure atmospheric variables.
The Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS) is a five-channel passive microwave radiometer, with channels from 89 to 190 GHz. It is very similar in design to the AMSU-B instrument, but some channel frequencies have been altered. It is used to study profiles of atmospheric water vapor and provide improved input data to the cloud-clearing algorithms in IR/MW sounder suites. Instruments were launched on NOAA's POES satellite series starting with NOAA-18 launched in May 2005 and the European Space Agency's MetOp series starting with MetOp-A launched in October 2006, continuing with MetOp-B launched in September 2012.
Megha-Tropiques is a satellite mission to study the water cycle in the tropical atmosphere in the context of climate change A collaborative effort between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), Megha-Tropiques was successfully deployed into orbit by a PSLV rocket in October 2011.
Frank Wentz is the CEO and director of Remote Sensing Systems, a company he founded in 1974. Remote Sensing Systems specializes in satellite microwave remote sensing research. Together with Carl Mears, he is best known for developing a satellite temperature record from MSU and AMSU. Intercomparison of this record with the earlier UAH satellite temperature record, developed by John Christy and Roy Spencer, revealed deficiencies in the earlier work; specifically, the warming trend in the RSS version is larger than the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) one. From 1978 to 1982 Frank was a member of NASA's SeaSat Experiment Team involved in the development of physically based retrieval methods for microwave scatterometers and radiometers. He has also investigated the effect of climate change on satellite-derived evaporation, precipitation and surface wind values. His findings are different from most climate change model predictions.
In fluid mechanics, meteorology and oceanography, a trajectory traces the motion of a single point, often called a parcel, in the flow.
Isoline retrieval is a remote sensing inverse method that retrieves one or more isolines of a trace atmospheric constituent or variable. When used to validate another contour, it is the most accurate method possible for the task. When used to retrieve a whole field, it is a general, nonlinear inverse method and a robust estimator.
Collocation is a procedure used in remote sensing to match measurements from two or more different instruments. This is done for two main reasons: for validation purposes when comparing measurements of the same variable, and to relate measurements of two different variables either for performing retrievals or for prediction. In the second case the data is later fed into some type of statistical inverse method such as an artificial neural network, statistical classification algorithm, kernel estimator or a linear least squares. In principle, most collocation problems can be solved by a nearest neighbor search, but in practice there are many other considerations involved and the best method is highly specific to the particular matching of instruments. Here we deal with some of the most important considerations along with specific examples.
Sea ice concentration is a useful variable for climate scientists and nautical navigators. It is defined as the area of sea ice relative to the total at a given point in the ocean. This article will deal primarily with its determination from remote sensing measurements.
In applied statistics, optimal estimation is a regularized matrix inverse method based on Bayes' theorem. It is used very commonly in the geosciences, particularly for atmospheric sounding. A matrix inverse problem looks like this: