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Lazaros Oreopoulos
and
Robert F. Cahalan

Abstract

Two full months (July 2003 and January 2004) of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Atmosphere Level-3 data from the Terra and Aqua satellites are analyzed in order to characterize the horizontal variability of vertically integrated cloud optical thickness (“cloud inhomogeneity”) at global scales. The monthly climatology of cloud inhomogeneity is expressed in terms of standard parameters, initially calculated for each day of the month at spatial scales of 1° × 1° and subsequently averaged at monthly, zonal, and global scales. Geographical, diurnal, and seasonal changes of inhomogeneity parameters are examined separately for liquid and ice phases and separately over land and ocean. It is found that cloud inhomogeneity is overall weaker in summer than in winter. For liquid clouds, it is also consistently weaker for local morning than local afternoon and over land than ocean. Cloud inhomogeneity is comparable for liquid and ice clouds on a global scale, but with stronger spatial and temporal variations for the ice phase, and exhibits an average tendency to be weaker for near-overcast or overcast grid points of both phases. Depending on cloud phase, hemisphere, surface type, season, and time of day, hemispheric means of the inhomogeneity parameter ν (roughly the square of the ratio of optical thickness mean to standard deviation) have a wide range of ∼1.7 to 4, while for the inhomogeneity parameter χ (the ratio of the logarithmic to linear mean) the range is from ∼0.65 to 0.8. The results demonstrate that the MODIS Level-3 dataset is suitable for studying various aspects of cloud inhomogeneity and may prove invaluable for validating future cloud schemes in large-scale models capable of predicting subgrid variability.

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Lazaros Oreopoulos
,
Robert F. Cahalan
, and
Steven Platnick

Abstract

The authors present the global plane-parallel shortwave albedo bias of liquid clouds for two months, July 2003 and January 2004. The cloud optical properties necessary to perform the bias calculations come from the operational Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Terra and MODIS Aqua level-3 datasets. These data, along with ancillary surface albedo and atmospheric information consistent with the MODIS retrievals, are inserted into a broadband shortwave radiative transfer model to calculate the fluxes at the atmospheric column boundaries. The plane-parallel homogeneous (PPH) calculations are based on the mean cloud properties, while independent column approximation (ICA) calculations are based either on 1D histograms of optical thickness or joint 2D histograms of optical thickness and effective radius. The (positive) PPH albedo bias is simply the difference between PPH and ICA albedo calculations. Two types of biases are therefore examined: 1) the bias due to the horizontal inhomogeneity of optical thickness alone (the effective radius is set to the grid mean value) and 2) the bias due to simultaneous variations of optical thickness and effective radius as derived from their joint histograms. The authors find that the global bias of albedo (liquid cloud portion of the grid boxes only) is ∼+0.03, which corresponds to roughly 8% of the global liquid cloud albedo and is only modestly sensitive to the inclusion of horizontal effective radius variability and time of day, but depends strongly on season and latitude. This albedo bias translates to ∼3–3.5 W m−2 of bias (stronger negative values) in the diurnally averaged global shortwave cloud radiative forcing, assuming homogeneous conditions for the fraction of the grid box not covered by liquid clouds; zonal values can be as high as 8 W m−2. Finally, the (positive) broadband atmospheric absorptance bias is about an order of magnitude smaller than the albedo bias. The substantial magnitude of the PPH bias underlines the importance of predicting subgrid variability in GCMs and accounting for its effects on cloud–radiation interactions.

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