Direct determination of the radiative forcing of trace gases will be made possible by use of the next generation of nadir-looking spaceborne instruments that provide measurements of atmospheric radiances in the infrared spectral range with improved spectral and spatial resolution. An inversion statistical method has thus been developed and applied to the direct determination of the radiative forcing of methane, based on such instruments as the Fourier-transform Interferometric Monitor for Greenhouse Gases launched onboard the Japanese Advanced Earth Observing Satellite in 1996 and the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer planned for the European polar platform Meteorological Operational Satellite in 2000. The method is based on simple statistical laws that directly relate the measured radiances to the radiative forcing by use of an a priori selection of appropriate spectral intervals and global modeling of methane spatial variations. This procedure avoids the use of an indirect determination based on an inversion process that requires precise knowledge of the methane vertical profiles throughout the troposphere. The overall accuracy and precision of this new algorithm are studied, and interfering gases and instrumental characteristics are taken into account. It is shown that radiative forcing can be determined at high horizontal spatial resolution with a precision better than 7% in cloud-free conditions and with well-known surface properties.
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