Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
31 Mar 2001
31 Mar 2001

Temporal disaggregation of satellite-derived monthly precipitation estimates and the resulting propagation of error in partitioning of water at the land surface

S.A. Margulis and D. Entekhabi

Abstract. Global estimates of precipitation can now be made using data from a combination of geosynchronous and low earth-orbit satellites. However, revisit patterns of polar-orbiting satellites and the need to sample mixed-clouds scenes from geosynchronous satellites leads to the coarsening of the temporal resolution to the monthly scale. There are prohibitive limitations to the applicability of monthly-scale aggregated precipitation estimates in many hydrological applications. The nonlinear and threshold dependencies of surface hydrological processes on precipitation may cause the hydrological response of the surface to vary considerably based on the intermittent temporal structure of the forcing. Therefore, to make the monthly satellite data useful for hydrological applications (i.e. water balance studies, rainfall-runoff modelling, etc.), it is necessary to disaggregate the monthly precipitation estimates into shorter time intervals so that they may be used in surface hydrology models. In this study, two simple statistical disaggregation schemes are developed for use with monthly precipitation estimates provided by satellites. The two techniques are shown to perform relatively well in introducing a reasonable temporal structure into the disaggregated time series. An ensemble of disaggregated realisations was routed through two land surface models of varying complexity so that the error propagation that takes place over the course of the month could be characterised. Results suggest that one of the proposed disaggregation schemes can be used in hydrological applications without introducing significant error.

Keywords: precipitation, temporal disaggregation, hydrological modelling, error propagation