Description and comparison of 21st century thermosphere data

Sean Bruinsma*, Christian Siemes, John T. Emmert, Martin G. Mlynczak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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The quality and distribution in time and space of available atmospheric observations are crucial for the accuracy of semi-empirical thermosphere models. However, datasets can be inconsistent, and their qualities and resolutions are often unequal. The main thermospheric density datasets of this century are briefly described and then compared to each other when possible in order to quantify differences. Total mass densities used in the comparisons include all high-resolution CHAMP, GRACE and GOCE data, Swarm A, daily-mean Stella, global daily mean TLE densities, and the SET HASDM density database. The temperature data from TIMED-SABER are also reviewed. The recently updated daily-mean TLE densities (TLE2021) are 2–10 % smaller on average than the previous version (TLE2015). The differences are not constant offsets per altitude level, but fluctuations of up to 5 % are present. Compared to HASDM densities for 6 altitudes from 250 to 675 km, TLE2021 is 15–20 % smaller at 250 km, and then the difference diminishes with altitude to reach the same average value at 575 km. These mean differences also fluctuate by a few percent on time scales of months, to 10 % over half a solar cycle at 575 km. The TLE2021 and HASDM densities are larger than the accelerometer-inferred CHAMP, GRACE and GOCE densities and average offsets are 10–15 % and 10–20 %, respectively. The comparison to Swarm-A and Swarm-B showed mean offsets of 10 % and less, with significant positive trends seen in the comparison with HASDM. Finally, largest differences are found for Stella and HASDM at 800 km, up to 45 % with strong semiannual variations. This study clearly shows that the available density data cannot be simply assimilated or combined without first accurately calibrating the data. The HASDM database is a valuable asset due to its considerable coverage in space and time, but its uncertainty and true resolution are not well understood and are still being evaluated. Data compatibility requires employing physically accurate and harmonized aerodynamic force models in the density derivation procedure, which is presently not achieved. The accuracy of the procedure, independent of the quality of the instrument (GNSS receiver, ground-based orbit determination, or accelerometer), inevitably decreases with altitude due to weakening of the drag signal to noise ratio. The TIMED-SABER instrument provides measurements of pressure and temperature in the lower thermosphere. SABER temperature uncertainty is well-known. The SABER dataset now exceeds twenty years and has been continuously operating that entire time. It was ingested in NRLMSIS 2.0 and comparisons show the much-improved fit in comparison with NRLMSISE-00. The lower thermosphere temperatures significantly modify density at higher altitudes, and its measurement is essential for modeling and assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5476-5489
Number of pages14
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Satellite drag
  • Thermosphere density data
  • Thermosphere model


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