Downscaling Satellite Precipitation with Emphasis on Extremes: A Variational ℓ1-Norm Regularization in the Derivative Domain

E. Foufoula-Georgiou, A. M. Ebtehaj, S. Q. Zhang, A. Y. Hou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The increasing availability of precipitation observations from space, e.g., from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and the forthcoming Global Precipitation Measuring (GPM) Mission, has fueled renewed interest in developing frameworks for downscaling and multi-sensor data fusion that can handle large data sets in computationally efficient ways while optimally reproducing desired properties of the underlying rainfall fields. Of special interest is the reproduction of extreme precipitation intensities and gradients, as these are directly relevant to hazard prediction. In this paper, we present a new formalism for downscaling satellite precipitation observations, which explicitly allows for the preservation of some key geometrical and statistical properties of spatial precipitation. These include sharp intensity gradients (due to high-intensity regions embedded within lower-intensity areas), coherent spatial structures (due to regions of slowly varying rainfall), and thicker-than-Gaussian tails of precipitation gradients and intensities. Specifically, we pose the downscaling problem as a discrete inverse problem and solve it via a regularized variational approach (variational downscaling) where the regularization term is selected to impose the desired smoothness in the solution while allowing for some steep gradients (called ℓ1-norm or total variation regularization). We demonstrate the duality between this geometrically inspired solution and its Bayesian statistical interpretation, which is equivalent to assuming a Laplace prior distribution for the precipitation intensities in the derivative (wavelet) space. When the observation operator is not known, we discuss the effect of its misspecification and explore a previously proposed dictionary-based sparse inverse downscaling methodology to indirectly learn the observation operator from a data base of coincidental high- and low-resolution observations. The proposed method and ideas are illustrated in case studies featuring the downscaling of a hurricane precipitation field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-783
Number of pages19
JournalSurveys in Geophysics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This work has been mainly supported by a NASA-GPM award (NNX10AO12G), a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NNX12AN45H), and a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship of the University of Minnesota to the second author. The insightful comments of one anonymous referee are also gratefully acknowledged.


  • Extremes
  • Generalized Gaussian density
  • Hurricanes
  • Inverse problems
  • Non-smooth convex optimization
  • Sparsity


Dive into the research topics of 'Downscaling Satellite Precipitation with Emphasis on Extremes: A Variational ℓ1-Norm Regularization in the Derivative Domain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this