Advances and limitations of atmospheric boundary layer observations with GPS occultation over southeast Pacific Ocean
Abstract. The typical atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) over the southeast (SE) Pacific Ocean is featured with a strong temperature inversion and a sharp moisture gradient across the ABL top. The strong moisture and temperature gradients result in a sharp refractivity gradient that can be precisely detected by the Global Positioning System (GPS) radio occultation (RO) measurements. In this paper, the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere & Climate (COSMIC) GPS RO soundings, radiosondes and the high-resolution ECMWF analysis over the SE Pacific are analyzed. COSMIC RO is able to detect a wide range of ABL height variations (1–2 km) as observed from the radiosondes. However, the ECMWF analysis systematically underestimates the ABL heights. The sharp refractivity gradient at the ABL top frequently exceeds the critical refraction (e.g., −157 N-unit km−1) and becomes the so-called ducting condition, which results in a systematic RO refractivity bias (or called N-bias) inside the ABL. Simulation study based on radiosonde profiles reveals the magnitudes of the N-biases are vertical resolution dependent. The $N$-bias is also the primary cause of the systematically smaller refractivity gradient (rarely exceeding −110 N-unit km−1) at the ABL top from RO measurement. However, the N-bias seems not affect the ABL height detection. Instead, the very large RO bending angle and the sharp refractivity gradient due to ducting allow reliable detection of the ABL height from GPS RO. The seasonal mean climatology of ABL heights derived from a nine-month composite of COSMIC RO soundings over the SE Pacific reveals significant differences from the ECMWF analysis. Both show an increase of ABL height from the shallow stratocumulus near the coast to a much higher trade wind inversion further off the coast. However, COSMIC RO shows an overall deeper ABL and reveals different locations of the minimum and maximum ABL heights as compared to the ECMWF analysis. At low latitudes, despite the decreasing number of COSMIC RO soundings and the lower percentage of soundings that penetrate into the lowest 500-m above the mean-sea-level, there are small sampling errors in the mean ABL height climatology. The difference of ABL height climatology between COSMIC RO and ECMWF analysis over SE Pacific is significant and requires further studies.