Rainfall production is the fundamental variable within the Earth's hydrological cycle because it is both the principal forcing term in surface water budgets and its energetics corollary, latent heating, is the principal source of atmospheric diabatic heating. Latent heat release itself is a consequence of phase changes between the vapor, liquid, and frozen states of water. The properties of the vertical distribution of latent heat release modulate large-scale meridional and zonal circulations within the tropics - as well as modifying the energetic efficiencies of midlatitude weather systems. This paper focuses on the retrieval of latent heat release from satellite measurements generated by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite observatory, which was launched in November 1997 as a joint American-Japanese space endeavor. Since then, TRMM measurements have been providing an accurate four-dimensional account of rainfall over the global tropics and sub-tropics, information which can be used to estimate the space-time structure of latent heating across the Earth's low latitudes. The paper examines how the observed TRMM distribution of rainfall has advanced an understanding of the global water and energy cycle and its consequent relationship to the atmospheric general circulation and climate via latent heat release. A set of algorithm methodologies that are being used to estimate latent heating based on rain rate retrievals from the TRMM observations are described. The characteristics of these algorithms and the latent heating products that can be generated from them are also described, along with validation analyses of the heating products themselves. Finally, the investigation provides an overview of how TRMM-derived latent heating information is currently being used in conjunction with global weather and climate models, concluding with remarks intended to stimulate further research on latent heating retrieval from satellites.
Goddard Space Flight Center; Jet Propulsion Laboratory