David E.

Steitz Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1730) Lynn Chandler Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD (Phone: 301/286-9016) RELEASE: 98-83

May 19, 1998

SCIENTISTS REPORT TRMM DATA EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS The world's first spaceborne rain radar -- aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a joint U.S.-Japanese mission -- is exceeding expectations for accuracy and resolution, and the spacecraft is providing unprecedented insights into rainfall producing cloud systems over tropical land masses and oceans. "We're extremely excited about these new images and the quality and quantity of the data we're receiving. In several instances, the data resolution is much better than we had anticipated," said Dr. Christian Kummerow, TRMM Project Scientist, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. "Previously, it was not possible to gather radar precipitation data over the oceans and TRMM has changed all that." TRMM is NASA's first mission dedicated to observing and understanding tropical rainfall, which comprises more than twothirds of all rainfall, and how it affects the global climate. Global rainfall is the primary distributor of heat through atmospheric circulation. The recent El Nino serves as a perfect example of the atmospheric circulation changes that can result from a displacement of the normal precipitation patterns in the central Pacific. More precise information about this rainfall and its variability is crucial to understanding and predicting global climate and climate change. The Precipitation Radar aboard TRMM is the first rain radar ever launched into space. It measures precipitation distribution over both land and sea areas. Some of the most dramatic Precipitation Radar data was received on March 9 over Melbourne, FL, during the passage of a line of very severe thunderstorms. In comparing the TRMM radar data of the storm with that taken by

ground-based radars, the three dimensional TRMM radar showed better vertical resolution of the storm structure. The vertical structure is critical for determining a storm's overall intensity as well as determining the height at which the heat release associated with precipitation is occurring. Another image released today shows TRMM's radar-derived view of a severe thunderstorm over Houston, TX. The TRMM radar demonstrated significantly better capability to define ambiguities, or occasional "false readings," associated with ground-based radars. The TRMM spacecraft fills an enormous void in the ability to calculate world-wide precipitation because so little of the planet is covered by ground-based radars. Presently, only two percent of the area covered by TRMM is covered by ground-based radars. "Since rainfall represents energy conversion, hurricane researchers are eager to use the rainfall data as input to hurricane forecast models," notes Jerry Jarrell, director, National Hurricane Center. Also aboard TRMM is the Microwave Imager, providing exceptional resolution of storm systems. TRMM's Microwave Imager has better spatial resolution and a new lower frequency channel than previous instruments, according to Kummerow. An interesting preliminary finding from the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), another instrument on the TRMM satellite, is that its data indicate little lightning over the oceans and 90 percent of lightning occurring over land. Researchers believe that the greater lightning activity over land is primarily due to a larger convection -- or heat -- effect associated with land. This results in greater ice production and, consequently, more lightning. "The beauty of TRMM is that with the Precipitation Radar and the microwave imager, we can test this hypothesis time and again," said LIS Principal Investigator Hugh Christian, at the Global Hydrology and Climate Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. "TRMM will enable us to gain fundamental insights into the properties of these convective storms and thus better estimate the effects on global weather patterns." The Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument aboard the spacecraft measures how much sunlight the planet's atmosphere, surface and clouds reflect and how much

energy it radiates to space from its store of heat energy. "CERES achieved new levels of calibration that we've never reached before in looking at the Earth," said Dr. Bruce Barkstrom, a scientist at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, which manages CERES. "Those new levels will help us reduce the uncertainty of how the Earth uses the energy from the Sun to drive the climate system." By studying rainfall regionally and globally, and the difference in ocean and land-based storms, TRMM is providing scientists the most detailed information to date on the processes of these powerful storms, leading to new insights on how they affect global climate patterns. TRMM's complement of state-of-theart instruments will provide extremely accurate measurements of the distribution and variability of tropical rain and lightning, and the balance of solar radiation absorbed and reflected by Earth's atmosphere. -end-