Tropical rainfall affects the lives and economics of a majority of the Earth's population. Tropical rain systems, such as hurricanes, typhoons, and monsoons, are crucial to sustaining the livelihoods of those living in the tropics. Excess rainfall can cause floods and great property and crop damage, whereas too little rainfall can cause drought and crop failure. The latent heat release during the process of precipitation is a major source of energy that drives the atmospheric circulation. This latent heat can intensify weather systems, affecting weather thousands of kilometers away, thus making tropical rainfall an important indicator of atmospheric circulation and short-term climate change. Tropical forests and the underlying soils are major sources of many of the atmosphere's trace constituents. Together, the forests and the atmosphere act as a water-energy regulating system. Most of the rainfall is returned to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration, and the atmospheric trace constituents take part in the recycling process. Hence, the hydrological cycle provides a direct link between tropical rainfall and the global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, all important trace materials for the Earth's system. Because rainfall is such an important component in the interactions between the ocean, atmosphere, land, and the biosphere, accurate measurements of rainfall are crucial to understanding the workings of the Earth-atmosphere system. The large spatial and temporal variability of rainfall systems, however, poses a major challenge to estimating global rainfall. So far, there has been a lack of rain gauge networks, especially over the oceans, which points to satellite measurement as the only means by which global observation of rainfall can be made. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), jointly sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) of Japan, provides visible, infrared, and microwave observations of tropical and subtropical rain systems.The satellite observations are complemented by ground radar and rain gauge measurements to validate satellite rain estimation techniques. Goddard Space Flight Center's involvement includes the observatory, four instruments, integration and testing of the observatory, data processing and distribution, and satellite operations. TRMM has a design lifetime of three years. Data generated from TRMM and archived at the GDAAC are useful not only for hydrologists, atmospheric scientists, and climatologists, but also for the health community studying infectious diseases, the ocean research community, and the agricultural community.
Meteorology and Climatology