Independent Pixel and Monte Carlo Estimates of Stratocumulus Albedo

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  • 1 NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Laboratory for Atmospheres, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 2 Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana
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Abstract

Monte Carlo radiative transfer methods are employed here to estimate the plane-parallel albedo bias for marine stratocumulus clouds. This is the bias in estimates of the mesoscale-average albedo, which arises from the assumption that cloud liquid water is uniformly distributed. The authors compare such estimates with those based on a more realistic distribution generated from a fractal model of marine stratocumulus clouds belonging to the class of “bounded cascade” models. In this model the cloud top and base are fixed, so that all variations in cloud shape are ignored. The model generates random variations in liquid water along a single horizontal direction, forming fractal cloud streets while conserving the total liquid water in the cloud field. The model reproduces the mean, variance, and skewness of the vertically integrated cloud liquid water, as well as its observed wavenumber spectrum, which is approximately a power law. The Monte Carlo method keeps track of the three-dimensional paths solar photons take through the cloud field, using a vectorized implementation of a direct technique. The simplifications in the cloud field studied here allow the computations to be accelerated. The Monte Carlo results are compared to those of the independent pixel approximation, which neglects net horizontal photon transport. Differences between the Monte Carlo and independent pixel estimates of the mesoscale-average albedo are on the order of 1% for conservative scattering, while the plane-parallel bias itself is an order of magnitude larger. As cloud absorption increases, the independent pixel approximation agrees even more closely with the Monte Carlo estimates. This result holds for a wide range of sun angles and aspect ratios. Thus, horizontal photon transport can be safely neglected in estimates of the area-average flux for such cloud models. This result relies on the rapid falloff of the wavenumber spectrum of stratocumulus, which ensures that the smaller-scale variability, where the radiative transfer is more three-dimensional, contributes less to the plane-parallel albedo bias than the larger scales, which are more variable. The lack of significant three-dimensional effects also relies on the assumption of a relatively simple geometry. Even with these assumptions, the independent pixel approximation is accurate only for fluxes averaged over large horizontal areas, many photon mean free paths in diameter, and not for local radiance values, which depend strongly on the interaction between neighboring cloud elements.

Abstract

Monte Carlo radiative transfer methods are employed here to estimate the plane-parallel albedo bias for marine stratocumulus clouds. This is the bias in estimates of the mesoscale-average albedo, which arises from the assumption that cloud liquid water is uniformly distributed. The authors compare such estimates with those based on a more realistic distribution generated from a fractal model of marine stratocumulus clouds belonging to the class of “bounded cascade” models. In this model the cloud top and base are fixed, so that all variations in cloud shape are ignored. The model generates random variations in liquid water along a single horizontal direction, forming fractal cloud streets while conserving the total liquid water in the cloud field. The model reproduces the mean, variance, and skewness of the vertically integrated cloud liquid water, as well as its observed wavenumber spectrum, which is approximately a power law. The Monte Carlo method keeps track of the three-dimensional paths solar photons take through the cloud field, using a vectorized implementation of a direct technique. The simplifications in the cloud field studied here allow the computations to be accelerated. The Monte Carlo results are compared to those of the independent pixel approximation, which neglects net horizontal photon transport. Differences between the Monte Carlo and independent pixel estimates of the mesoscale-average albedo are on the order of 1% for conservative scattering, while the plane-parallel bias itself is an order of magnitude larger. As cloud absorption increases, the independent pixel approximation agrees even more closely with the Monte Carlo estimates. This result holds for a wide range of sun angles and aspect ratios. Thus, horizontal photon transport can be safely neglected in estimates of the area-average flux for such cloud models. This result relies on the rapid falloff of the wavenumber spectrum of stratocumulus, which ensures that the smaller-scale variability, where the radiative transfer is more three-dimensional, contributes less to the plane-parallel albedo bias than the larger scales, which are more variable. The lack of significant three-dimensional effects also relies on the assumption of a relatively simple geometry. Even with these assumptions, the independent pixel approximation is accurate only for fluxes averaged over large horizontal areas, many photon mean free paths in diameter, and not for local radiance values, which depend strongly on the interaction between neighboring cloud elements.

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