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29 September 2014

Schematic illustration of FY-3A and B spacecraft

On 24 September 2014, ECMWF actively used Chinese satellite data for the first time in the operational forecasting system. This marks a milestone in ECMWF’s fruitful cooperation with the Chinese Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the Chinese Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) in the area of characterisation and use of Chinese satellite data. China is expected to play a leading role in providing meteorological satellite data in the near future, alongside Europe and the US, currently the main providers of satellite sounding data used operationally. Activating the first Chinese satellite data in the ECMWF system is therefore an important step towards a much greater use of Chinese satellite data in the future.

The new data originates from the Microwave Humidity Sounder (MWHS) on-board the Fengyun-3B (FY-3B) satellite. It contributes to an improved analysis of mid- to upper-tropospheric humidity, and adds robustness to the satellite observing system. Although FY-3B is an experimental satellite, the data has been found to be of sufficient quality to further improve ECMWF’s atmospheric analysis. Keyi Chen, visiting scientist from IAP, explains: “Our work has shown the data is of reliable quality, and it has an impact comparable to similar European or US satellite instruments that have been used operationally for a long time.” 

The development is the result of a very constructive partnership with CMA and IAP to characterise Chinese satellite data. During regular visits to ECMWF, Qifeng Lu from CMA has significantly advanced our understanding of the performance of the instruments on the experimental FY-3A and B satellites. This work continues with the analysis of data from the latest Chinese satellite, FY-3C, performed together with CMA, ECMWF, and the UK Met Office. FY-3C is China’s first operational meteorological polar-orbiting satellite, and it carries much improved instruments compared to the earlier FY-3A and B satellites. It was launched in September last year and Qifeng Lu is currently visiting ECMWF again. He notes: “The cooperation between CMA, ECMWF and the Met Office is very important to help us evaluate the data and improve its performance. This is also of benefit to the wider community. We very much hope that more Chinese data will be actively assimilated at ECMWF and elsewhere in the future.”