Observation errors in early historical upper-air observations

Wartenburger, Richard; Brönnimann, Stefan; Stickler, Alexander (2013). Observation errors in early historical upper-air observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 118(21), pp. 12012-12028. American Geophysical Union 10.1002/2013JD020156

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Upper-air observations are a fundamental data source for global atmospheric data products, but uncertainties, particularly in the early years, are not well known. Most of the early observations, which have now been digitized, are prone to a large variety of undocumented uncertainties (errors) that need to be quantified, e.g., for their assimilation in reanalysis projects. We apply a novel approach to estimate errors in upper-air temperature, geopotential height, and wind observations from the Comprehensive Historical Upper-Air Network for the time period from 1923 to 1966. We distinguish between random errors, biases, and a term that quantifies the representativity of the observations. The method is based on a comparison of neighboring observations and is hence independent of metadata, making it applicable to a wide scope of observational data sets. The estimated mean random errors for all observations within the study period are 1.5 K for air temperature, 1.3 hPa for pressure, 3.0 ms−1for wind speed, and 21.4° for wind direction. The estimates are compared to results of previous studies and analyzed with respect to their spatial and temporal variability.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Climatology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

Graduate School:

Graduate School of Climate Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Wartenburger, Richard; Brönnimann, Stefan and Stickler, Alexander Nicolas


900 History > 910 Geography & travel
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




American Geophysical Union




Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

04 Jul 2014 10:14

Last Modified:

13 Mar 2021 12:05

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

observation error, representativity error, bias, upper-air observations, radiosonde, error estimation





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