Historical radiosonde data are analyzed using the tropopause height frequency method to investigate the variation of the Southern Hemisphere tropical edge from 1979/80–2010/11, independently of reanalysis-derived data. Averaged across the hemisphere we identify a tropical expansion trend of 0.41 ± 0.37 deg dec−1, significant at the 90% level. A comparison with four reanalyses shows generally consistent results between radiosondes and reanalyses. Estimated rates of tropical expansion in the SH are broadly similar, as is the interannual variability. However, notable differences remain. Some of these differences are related to the methodology used to identify the height of the tropopause in the reanalyses, which produces inconsistent results in the subtropics. Differences between radiosondes and reanalyses are also more manifest in data-poor regions. In these regions, the reanalyses are not fully constrained, allowing the internal model dynamics to drive the variability. The performance of the reanalyses varies temporally compared to the radiosonde data. These differences are particularly apparent from 1979 to 1985 and from 2001 to 2010. In the latter period, we hypothesize that the increased availability and quality of satellite-based data improves the results from the ERA Interim reanalysis, creating an inconsistency with earlier data. This apparent inhomogeneity results in a tropical expansion trend in that product that is inconsistent with the radiosonde-based observations. These results confirm the need for careful evaluation of reanalysis-based data for use in studies of long-term climate variability.