Variability of wet troposphere delays over inland reservoirs as simulated by a high-resolution regional climate model

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Elizabeth Clark1,2 and Dennis P Lettenmaier2, (1)University of Washington Seattle Campus, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Seattle, WA, United States, (2)University of California, Los Angeles (effective Nov., 2014), Dept. of Geography, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Satellite radar altimetry is widely used for measuring global sea level variations and, increasingly, water height variations of inland water bodies. Existing satellite radar altimeters measure water surfaces directly below the spacecraft (approximately at nadir). Over the ocean, most of these satellites use radiometry to measure the delay of radar signals caused by water vapor in the atmosphere (also known as the wet troposphere delay (WTD)). However, radiometry can only be used to estimate this delay over the largest inland water bodies, such as the Great Lakes, due to spatial resolution issues. As a result, atmospheric models are typically used to simulate and correct for the WTD at the time of observations. The resolutions of these models are quite coarse, at best about 5000 km2 at 30˚N. The upcoming NASA- and CNES-led Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, on the other hand, will use interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) techniques to measure a 120-km-wide swath of the Earth’s surface. SWOT is expected to make useful measurements of water surface elevation and extent (and storage change) for inland water bodies at spatial scales as small as 250 m, which is much smaller than current altimetry targets and several orders of magnitude smaller than the models used for wet troposphere corrections. Here, we calculate WTD from very high-resolution (4/3-km to 4-km) simulations of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) regional climate model, and use the results to evaluate spatial variations in WTD. We focus on six U.S. reservoirs: Lake Elwell (MT), Lake Pend Oreille (ID), Upper Klamath Lake (OR), Elephant Butte (NM), Ray Hubbard (TX), and Sam Rayburn (TX). The reservoirs vary in climate, shape, use, and size. Because evaporation from open water impacts local water vapor content, we compare time series of WTD over land and water in the vicinity of each reservoir. To account for resolution effects, we examine the difference in WRF-simulated WTD averaged over ECMWF and NCEP-NCAR resolution grid cells and compare the magnitudes of each over reservoirs. Finally, we also test the degree to which, if uncorrected, the WTD would dampen or strengthen measured changes in water levels (and storage) at each reservoir.