Quantifying Uncertainties in Rainfall Maps from Cellular Communication Networks

Friday, 19 December 2014
Manuel Felipe Rios Gaona1, Aart Overeem1, Hidde Leijnse2 and Remko Uijlenhoet1, (1)Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands, (2)Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, Netherlands
The core idea behind rainfall retrievals from commercial microwave link networks is to measure the decrease in power due to attenuation of the electromagnetic signal by raindrops along the link path. Accurate rainfall measurements are of vital importance in hydrological applications, for instance, flash-flood early-warning systems, agriculture, and climate modeling. Hence, such an alternative technique fulfills the need for measurements with higher resolution in time and space, especially in places where standard rain gauge-networks are scarce or poorly maintained.

Rainfall estimation via commercial microwave link networks, at country-wide scales, has recently been demonstrated. Despite their potential applicability in rainfall estimation at higher spatiotemporal resolutions, the uncertainties present in link-based rainfall maps are not yet fully comprehended. Now we attempt to quantify the inherent sources of uncertainty present in interpolated maps computed from commercial microwave link rainfall retrievals. In order to disentangle these sources of uncertainty we identified four main sources of error: 1) microwave link measurements, 2) availability of microwave link measurements, 3) spatial distribution of the network, and 4) interpolation methodology.

We computed more than 1000 rainfall fields, for The Netherlands, from real and simulated microwave link data. These rainfall fields were compared to quality-controlled gauge-adjusted radar rainfall maps considered as ground-truth. Thus we were able to quantify the contribution of errors in microwave link measurements to the overall uncertainty. The actual performance of the commercial microwave link network is affected by the intermittent availability of the links, not only in time but also in space. We simulated a fully-operational network in time and space, and thus we quantified the role of the availability of microwave link measurements to the overall uncertainty.

This research showed that the largest source of uncertainty is related to the microwave link measurements themselves (~55%). The second largest source of uncertainty (~20%) is attributed to the intermittence in the availability of microwave link data.