Stephens, G. L., D. L. Jackson, and J. J. Bates, 1994: A comparison of SSM/I and TOVS column water vapor data over the global oceans. Meteorol. Atmos. Phys., 54, 183-201.


This paper presents a comparison of column water vapor (CWV) information derived from both infrared measurements as part of the TIROS-N Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS) and Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) in an attempt to assess the relative merits of each kind of data. From the analyses presented in this paper, it appears that both types of satellite data closely reproduce the bulk climatological relationships introduced in studies using different data. This includes both the bulk relationship between CWV and the sea surface temperature and the annual variation of CWV over the world's oceans. The TOVS water vapor data tends to be systematically smaller than the SSM/I data and when averaged over the ocean covered regions of the globe this difference is between 2-3 kgm-2. Using a cloud liquid water threshold technique to establish clear sky values of SSM/I water vapor, we conclude that the difference between TOVS and SSM/I are largely a result of the clear sky bias in TOVS sampling except in the subsidence regions of the subtropics. The clear sky bias is considerably smaller than previously reported and we attribute this improvement to the new physical retrieval scheme implemented by NOAA NESDIS. While there is considerable agreement between the two types of satellite data, there are also important differences. In regions where there is drying associated with large scale subsidence of the atmosphere, the TOVS CWV's are too moist relative to both radiosonde and SSM/I data and this difference may exceed 10 kgm-2. The explanation for this difference lies in the limitations of infrared radiative transfer. By contrast, in regions of deep convection, such as in the ITCZ, TOVS CWV is systematically lower than the SSM/I CWV. Both TOVS and SSM/I data demonstrate similar kinds of gross effects of large scale circulation on the water vapor except in these subsidence regions where TOVS data leads to an underprediction of the effects of subsidence drying.