Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
10 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 10 Nov 2014

Evaluation of wet troposphere path delays from atmospheric reanalyses and radiometers and their impact on the altimeter sea level

J.-F. Legeais, M. Ablain, and S. Thao

Abstract. The assessment of long-term errors in altimeter sea level measurements is essential for studies related to the mean sea level (MSL) evolution. One of the main contributors to the long-term sea level uncertainties is the correction of the altimeter range from the wet troposphere path delay, which is provided by onboard microwave radiometers for the main altimeter missions. The wet troposphere correction (WTC) derived from the operational European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) atmospheric model is usually used as a reference for comparison with the radiometer WTC. However, due to several improvements in the processing, this model is not homogenous over the altimetry period (from 1993 onwards), preventing the detection of errors in the radiometer WTC, especially in the first altimetry decade. In this study, we determine the quality of WTC provided by the operational ECMWF atmospheric model in comparison with the fields derived from the ERA-Interim (ECMWF) and the National Centers for Environmental Predictions/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP/NCAR) reanalyses. Separating our analyses on several temporal and spatial scales, we demonstrate that ERA-Interim provides the best modeled WTC for the altimeter sea level at climate scales. This allows us to better evaluate the radiometer WTC errors, especially for the first altimetry decade (1993–2002), and thus to improve the altimeter MSL error budget. This work also demonstrates the relevance of the interactions between the "altimetry" and "atmosphere" communities, since the expertise of each is of benefit to the other.