A study has been made of the relationship between mean cloud radiative properties and cloud fraction in stratocumulus cloud systems. The analysis is of several Land Resources Satellite System (LANDSAT) images and three hourly International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) C-1 data during daylight hours for two grid boxes covering an area typical of a general circulation model (GCM) grid increment. Cloud properties were inferred from the LANDSAT images using two thresholds and several pixel resolutions ranging from roughly 1/16 km to 8 km. At the finest resolution, the analysis shows that mean cloud optical depth (or liquid water path) increases somewhat with increasing cloud fraction up to 20% cloud coverage. More striking, however, is the lack of correlation between the two quantities for cloud fractions between roughly 0.2 and 0.8. When the scene is essentially overcast, the mean cloud optical depth tends to be higher. Coarse resolution LANDSAT analysis and the ISCCP 8-km data show lack of correlation between mean cloud optical depth and cloud fraction for coverage less than about 90%.

This study shows that there is perhaps a local mean liquid water path (LWP) associated with partly cloudy areas of stratocumulus clouds. A method has been suggested to use this property to construct the cloud fraction parameterization in a GCM when the model computes a grid-box-mean LWP.

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