Detecting water vapor variability during heavy precipitation events in Hong Kong using the GPS tomographic technique

Biyan Chen, Zhizhao Liu, Wai Kin Wong, Wang Chun Woo

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Water vapor has a strong influence on the evolution of heavy precipitation events due to the huge latent heat associated with the phase change process of water. Accurate monitoring of atmospheric water vapor distribution is thus essential in predicting the severity and life cycle of heavy rain. This paper presents a systematic study on the application of tomographic solutions to investigate water vapor variations during heavy precipitation events. Using global positioning system (GPS) observations, the wet refractivity field was constructed at a temporal resolution of 30 min for three heavy precipitation events occurring in Hong Kong, China, in 2010-14. The zenith wet delay (ZWD) is shown to be a good indicator in observing the water vapor evolution in heavy rain events. The variabilities of water vapor at five altitude layers (< 1000, 1000-2000, 2000-3000, 3000-5000, and > 5000 m) were examined. It revealed that water vapor above 3000 m has larger fluctuation than that under 3000 m, though it accounts for only 10%-25% of the total amount of water vapor. The relative humidity fields derived from tomographic results revealed moisture variation, accumulation, saturation, and condensation during the heavy rain events. The water vapor variabilities observed by tomography have been validated using European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reanalysis and radiosonde data. The results positively demonstrated the potential of using water vapor tomographic technique for detecting and monitoring the evolution of heavy rain events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1001-1019
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Global positioning systems (GPS)
  • Radars/Radar observations
  • Rainfall
  • Reanalysis data
  • Troposphere
  • Water vapor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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