Sensitivity of the ERA40 reanalysis to the observing system: determination of the global atmospheric circulation from reduced observations

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Bengtsson, L. ; Hodges, K. I. ; Hagemann, S. (2004)

The impact of selected observing systems on the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) 40-yr reanalysis (ERA40) is explored by mimicking observational networks of the past. This is accomplished by systematically removing observations from the present observational data base used by ERA40. The observing systems considered are a surface-based system typical of the period prior to 1945/50, obtained by only retaining the surface observations, a terrestrial-based system typical of the period 1950–1979, obtained by removing all space-based observations, and finally a space-based system, obtained by removing all terrestrial observations except those for surface pressure. Experiments using these different observing systems have been limited to seasonal periods selected from the last 10 yr of ERA40. The results show that the surface-based system has severe limitations in reconstructing the atmospheric state of the upper troposphere and stratosphere. The terrestrial system has major limitations in generating the circulation of the Southern Hemisphere with considerable errors in the position and intensity of individual weather systems. The space-based system is able to analyse the larger-scale aspects of the global atmosphere almost as well as the present observing system but performs less well in analysing the smaller-scale aspects as represented by the vorticity field. Here, terrestrial data such as radiosondes and aircraft observations are of paramount importance. The terrestrial system in the form of a limited number of radiosondes in the tropics is also required to analyse the quasi-biennial oscillation phenomenon in a proper way. The results also show the dominance of the satellite observing system in the Southern Hemisphere. These results all indicate that care is required in using current reanalyses in climate studies due to the large inhomogeneity of the available observations, in particular in time.
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