Articles | Volume 15, issue 5
Research article
19 May 2011
Research article |  | 19 May 2011

Evaluation of satellite rainfall estimates over Ethiopian river basins

T. G. Romilly and M. Gebremichael

Abstract. High resolution satellite-based rainfall estimates (SREs) have enormous potential for use in hydrological applications, particularly in the developing world as an alternative to conventional rain gauges which are typically sparse. In this study, three SREs have been evaluated against collocated rain gauge measurements in Ethiopia across six river basins that represent different rainfall regimes and topography. The comparison is made using five-year (2003–2007) averages, and results are stratified by river basin, elevation and season. The SREs considered are: the Climate Prediction Center morphing method (CMORPH), Precipitation Estimation from Remotely Sensed Information Using Neural Networks (PERSIANN) and the real-time version of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) 3B42RT. Overall, the microwave-based products TMPA 3B42RT and CMORPH outperform the infrared-based product PERSIANN: PERSIANN tends to underestimate rainfall by 43 %, while CMORPH tends to underestimate by 11 % and TMPA 3B42RT tends to overestimate by 5 %. The bias in the satellite rainfall estimates depends on the rainfall regime, and, in some regimes, the elevation. In the northwest region, which is characterized mainly by highland topography, a humid climate and a strong Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) effect, elevation has a strong influence on the accuracy of the SREs: TMPA 3B42RT and CMORPH tend to overestimate at low elevations but give reasonably accurate results at high elevations, whereas PERSIANN gives reasonably accurate values at low elevations but underestimates at high elevations. In the southeast region, which is characterized mainly by lowland topography, a semi-arid climate and southerly winds, elevation does not have a significant influence on the accuracy of the SREs, and all the SREs underestimate rainfall across almost all elevations.