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David E.

Steitz
Headquarters, Washington, DC May 19, 1998
(Phone: 202/358-1730)

Lynn Chandler
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
(Phone: 301/286-9016)

RELEASE: 98-83

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 two-
thirds 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-the-
art 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.

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