Emerging Technologies and Synergies for Airborne and Space-Based Measurements of Water Vapor Profiles

  • Amin R. Nehrir
  • Christoph Kiemle
  • Mathew D. Lebsock
  • Gottfried Kirchengast
  • Stefan A. Buehler
  • Ulrich Löhnert
  • Cong-Liang Liu
  • Peter C. Hargrave
  • Maria Barrera-Verdejo
  • David M. Winker
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 65)


A deeper understanding of how clouds will respond to a warming climate is one of the outstanding challenges in climate science. Uncertainties in the response of clouds, and particularly shallow clouds, have been identified as the dominant source of the discrepancy in model estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity. As the community gains a deeper understanding of the many processes involved, there is a growing appreciation of the critical role played by fluctuations in water vapor and the coupling of water vapor and atmospheric circulations. Reduction of uncertainties in cloud-climate feedbacks and convection initiation as well as improved understanding of processes governing these effects will result from profiling of water vapor in the lower troposphere with improved accuracy and vertical resolution compared to existing airborne and space-based measurements. This paper highlights new technologies and improved measurement approaches for measuring lower tropospheric water vapor and their expected added value to current observations. Those include differential absorption lidar and radar, microwave occultation between low-Earth orbiters, and hyperspectral microwave remote sensing. Each methodology is briefly explained, and measurement capabilities as well as the current technological readiness for aircraft and satellite implementation are specified. Potential synergies between the technologies are discussed, actual examples hereof are given, and future perspectives are explored. Based on technical maturity and the foreseen near-mid-term development path of the various discussed measurement approaches, we find that improved measurements of water vapor throughout the troposphere would greatly benefit from the combination of differential absorption lidar focusing on the lower troposphere with passive remote sensors constraining the upper-tropospheric humidity.


Remote sensing Water vapor profiles Atmospheric science Lidar Differential absorption lidar Radar Differential absorption radar Microwave occultation Hyperspectral microwave Emerging technology 


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This paper arises from the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) Workshop on ‘‘Shallow clouds and water vapor, circulation and climate sensitivity.’’ The coauthors wish to acknowledge Lukas Kluft for his performance simulations of the hyperspectral microwave measurement approach, as well as Richard Ferrare and Susan Kooi for their contributions to the LASE data processing. Stefan Buehler was supported in part by the Cluster of Excellence ‘‘CliSAP’’ (EXC177), University of Hamburg, funded through the German Science Foundation (DFG). He also received support from the HD(CP)2 project (Fkz. 01LK1505D; Fkz. 01LK1502B), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as ‘‘Forschung fu¨ r Nachhaltige Entwicklung’’ (FONA). The lidar synergies work presented by Maria Barrera Verdejo and Ulrich Lo¨hnert has been supported by High Definition Clouds and Precipitation for advancing Climate Prediction HD(CP)2 (FKZ 01LK1209A, 01LK1502E) funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research. The DAR related activities were carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The HALO program is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Earth Science Technology Office and Earth Science Division. The work at the Wegener Center has been supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Aeronautics and Space Agency of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG-ALR). Cong-Liang Liu’s work was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). We thank the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions and also the UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council, under grant reference number ST/N000706/1, for providing support to enable open access to this article.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Amin R. Nehrir
    • 1
  • Christoph Kiemle
    • 2
  • Mathew D. Lebsock
    • 3
  • Gottfried Kirchengast
    • 4
  • Stefan A. Buehler
    • 5
  • Ulrich Löhnert
    • 6
  • Cong-Liang Liu
    • 7
  • Peter C. Hargrave
    • 8
  • Maria Barrera-Verdejo
    • 9
  • David M. Winker
    • 1
  1. 1.NASA Langley Research CenterHamptonUSA
  2. 2.DLR, Institut für Physik der AtmosphäreOberpfaffenhofenGermany
  3. 3.Jet Propulsion LaboratoryCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA
  4. 4.Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change (WEGC) and Institute for Geophysics, Astrophysics, and Meteorology/Institute of PhysicsUniversity of GrazGrazAustria
  5. 5.Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN), Meteorological InstituteUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany
  6. 6.Institute for Geophysics and MeteorologyUniversity of CologneCologneGermany
  7. 7.National Space Science Center (NSSC)Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  8. 8.School of Physics & AstronomyCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  9. 9.Forschungszentrum JülichJülichGermany

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