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Yolanda L. Shea, Bruce A. Wielicki, Sunny Sun-Mack, and Patrick Minnis

Abstract

Cloud response to Earth’s changing climate is one of the largest sources of uncertainty among global climate model (GCM) projections. Two of the largest sources of uncertainty are the spread in equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) and uncertainty in radiative forcing due to uncertainty in the aerosol indirect effect. Satellite instruments with sufficient accuracy and on-orbit stability to detect climate change–scale trends in cloud properties will improve confidence in the understanding of the relationship between observed climate change and cloud property trends, thus providing information to better constrain ECS and radiative forcing. This study applies a climate change uncertainty framework to quantify the impact of measurement uncertainty on trend detection times for cloud fraction, effective temperature, optical thickness, and water cloud effective radius. Although GCMs generally agree that the total cloud feedback is positive, disagreement remains on its magnitude. With the climate uncertainty framework, it is demonstrated how stringent measurement uncertainty requirements for reflected solar and infrared satellite measurements enable improved constraint of SW and LW cloud feedbacks and the ECS by significantly reducing trend uncertainties for cloud fraction, optical thickness, and effective temperature. The authors also demonstrate improved constraint on uncertainty in the aerosol indirect effect by reducing water cloud effective radius trend uncertainty.

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Sunny Sun-Mack, Patrick Minnis, Yan Chen, Seiji Kato, Yuhong Yi, Sharon C. Gibson, Patrick W. Heck, and David M. Winker

Abstract

Reliably determining low-cloud heights using a cloud-top temperature from satellite infrared imagery is often challenging because of difficulties in characterizing the local thermal structure of the lower troposphere with the necessary precision and accuracy. To improve low-cloud-top height estimates over water surfaces, various methods have employed lapse rates anchored to the sea surface temperature to replace the boundary layer temperature profiles that relate temperature to altitude. To further improve low-cloud-top height retrievals, collocated Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) and Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data taken from July 2006 to June 2007 and from June 2009 to May 2010 (2 yr) for single-layer low clouds are used here with numerical weather model analyses to develop regional mean boundary apparent lapse rates. These parameters are designated as apparent lapse rates because they are defined using the cloud-top temperatures from satellite retrievals and surface skin temperatures; they do not represent true lapse rates. Separate day and night, seasonal mean lapse rates are determined for 10′-resolution snow-free land, water, and coastal regions, while zonally dependent lapse rates are developed for snow/ice-covered areas for use in the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) Edition 4 cloud property retrieval system (CCPRS-4). The derived apparent lapse rates over ice-free water range from 5 to 9 K km−1 with mean values of about 6.9 and 7.2 K km−1 during the day and night, respectively. Over land, the regional values vary from 3 to 8 K km−1, with day and night means of 5.5 and 6.2 K km−1, respectively. The zonal-mean apparent lapse rates over snow and ice surfaces generally decrease with increasing latitude, ranging from 4 to 8 K km−1. All of the CCPRS-4 lapse rates were used along with five other lapse rate techniques to retrieve cloud-top heights for 2 months of independent Aqua MODIS data. When compared with coincident CALIPSO data for October 2007, the mean cloud-top height differences between CCPRS-4 and CALIPSO during the daytime (nighttime) are 0.04 ± 0.61 km (0.10 ± 0.62 km) over ice-free water, −0.06 ± 0.85 km (−0.01 ± 0.83 km) over snow-free land, and 0.38 ± 0.95 km (0.03 ± 0.92 km) over snow-covered areas. The CCPRS-4 regional monthly means are generally unbiased and lack spatial error gradients seen in the comparisons for most of the other techniques. Over snow-free land, the regional monthly-mean errors range from −0.28 ± 0.74 km during daytime to 0.04 ± 0.78 km at night. The water regional monthly means are, on average, 0.04 ± 0.44 km less than the CALIPSO values during day and night. Greater errors are realized for snow-covered regions. Overall, the CCPRS-4 lapse rates yield the smallest RMS differences for all times of day over all areas both for individual retrievals and monthly means. These new regional apparent lapse rates, used in processing CERES Edition 4 data, should provide more accurate low-cloud-type heights than previously possible using satellite imager data.

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Norman G. Loeb, Hailan Wang, Fred G. Rose, Seiji Kato, William L. Smith Jr, and Sunny Sun-Mack

Abstract

A diagnostic tool for determining surface and atmospheric contributions to interannual variations in top-of-atmosphere (TOA) reflected shortwave (SW) and net downward SW surface radiative fluxes is introduced. The method requires only upward and downward radiative fluxes at the TOA and surface as input and therefore can readily be applied to both satellite-derived and model-generated radiative fluxes. Observations from the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) Energy Balanced and Filled (EBAF) Edition 4.0 product show that 81% of the monthly variability in global mean reflected SW TOA flux anomalies is associated with atmospheric variations (mainly clouds), 6% is from surface variations, and 13% is from atmosphere–surface covariability. Over the Arctic Ocean, most of the variability in both reflected SW TOA flux and net downward SW surface flux anomalies is explained by variations in sea ice and cloud fraction alone (r 2 = 0.94). Compared to CERES, variability in two reanalyses—the ECMWF interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim) and NASA’s Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2)—show large differences in the regional distribution of variance for both the atmospheric and surface contributions to anomalies in net downward SW surface flux. For MERRA-2 the atmospheric contribution is 17% too large compared to CERES while ERA-Interim underestimates the variance by 15%. The difference is mainly due to how cloud variations are represented in the reanalyses. The overall surface contribution in both ERA-Interim and MERRA-2 is smaller than CERES EBAF by 15% for ERA-Interim and 58% for MERRA-2, highlighting limitations of the reanalyses in representing surface albedo variations and their influence on SW radiative fluxes.

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Norman G. Loeb, Ping Yang, Fred G. Rose, Gang Hong, Sunny Sun-Mack, Patrick Minnis, Seiji Kato, Seung-Hee Ham, William L. Smith Jr., Souichiro Hioki, and Guanglin Tang

Abstract

Ice cloud particles exhibit a range of shapes and sizes affecting a cloud’s single-scattering properties. Because they cannot be inferred from passive visible/infrared imager measurements, assumptions about the bulk single-scattering properties of ice clouds are fundamental to satellite cloud retrievals and broadband radiative flux calculations. To examine the sensitivity to ice particle model assumptions, three sets of models are used in satellite imager retrievals of ice cloud fraction, thermodynamic phase, optical depth, effective height, and particle size, and in top-of-atmosphere (TOA) and surface broadband radiative flux calculations. The three ice particle models include smooth hexagonal ice columns (SMOOTH), roughened hexagonal ice columns, and a two-habit model (THM) comprising an ensemble of hexagonal columns and 20-element aggregates. While the choice of ice particle model has a negligible impact on daytime cloud fraction and thermodynamic phase, the global mean ice cloud optical depth retrieved from THM is smaller than from SMOOTH by 2.3 (28%), and the regional root-mean-square difference (RMSD) is 2.8 (32%). Effective radii derived from THM are 3.9 μm (16%) smaller than SMOOTH values and the RMSD is 5.2 μm (21%). In contrast, the regional RMSD in TOA and surface flux between THM and SMOOTH is only 1% in the shortwave and 0.3% in the longwave when a consistent ice particle model is assumed in the cloud property retrievals and forward radiative transfer model calculations. Consequently, radiative fluxes derived using a consistent ice particle model assumption throughout provide a more robust reference for climate model evaluation compared to ice cloud property retrievals.

Open access
Alexander Ignatov, Patrick Minnis, Norman Loeb, Bruce Wielicki, Walter Miller, Sunny Sun-Mack, Didier Tanré, Lorraine Remer, Istvan Laszlo, and Erika Geier

Abstract

Understanding the impact of aerosols on the earth’s radiation budget and the long-term climate record requires consistent measurements of aerosol properties and radiative fluxes. The Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) Science Team combines satellite-based retrievals of aerosols, clouds, and radiative fluxes into Single Scanner Footprint (SSF) datasets from the Terra and Aqua satellites. Over ocean, two aerosol products are derived from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) using different sampling and aerosol algorithms. The primary, or M, product is taken from the standard multispectral aerosol product developed by the MODIS aerosol group while a simpler, secondary [Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) like], or A, product is derived by the CERES Science Team using a different cloud clearing method and a single-channel aerosol algorithm. Two aerosol optical depths (AOD), τ A1 and τ A2, are derived from MODIS bands 1 (0.644 μm) and 6 (1.632 μm) resembling the AVHRR/3 channels 1 and 3A, respectively. On Aqua the retrievals are made in band 7 (2.119 μm) because of poor quality data from band 6. The respective Ångström exponents can be derived from the values of τ. The A product serves as a backup for the M product. More importantly, the overlap of these aerosol products is essential for placing the 20+ year heritage AVHRR aerosol record in the context of more advanced aerosol sensors and algorithms such as that used for the M product.

This study documents the M and A products, highlighting their CERES SSF specifics. Based on 2 weeks of global Terra data, coincident M and A AODs are found to be strongly correlated in both bands. However, both domains in which the M and A aerosols are available, and the respective τ/α statistics significantly differ because of discrepancies in sampling due to differences in cloud and sun-glint screening. In both aerosol products, correlation is observed between the retrieved aerosol parameters (τ/α) and ambient cloud amount, with the dependence in the M product being more pronounced than in the A product.

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Seiji Kato, Bruce A. Wielicki, Fred G. Rose, Xu Liu, Patrick C. Taylor, David P. Kratz, Martin G. Mlynczak, David F. Young, Nipa Phojanamongkolkij, Sunny Sun-Mack, Walter F. Miller, and Yan Chen

Abstract

Variability present at a satellite instrument sampling scale (small-scale variability) has been neglected in earlier simulations of atmospheric and cloud property change retrievals using spatially and temporally averaged spectral radiances. The effects of small-scale variability in the atmospheric change detection process are evaluated in this study. To simulate realistic atmospheric variability, top-of-the-atmosphere nadir-view longwave spectral radiances are computed at a high temporal (instantaneous) resolution with a 20-km field-of-view using cloud properties retrieved from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) measurements, along with temperature humidity profiles obtained from reanalysis. Specifically, the effects of the variability on the necessary conditions for retrieving atmospheric changes by a linear regression are tested. The percentage error in the annual 10° zonal mean spectral radiance difference obtained by assuming linear combinations of individual perturbations expressed as a root-mean-square (RMS) difference computed over wavenumbers between 200 and 2000 cm−1 is 10%–15% for most of the 10° zones. However, if cloud fraction perturbation is excluded, the RMS difference decreases to less than 2%. Monthly and annual 10° zonal mean spectral radiances change linearly with atmospheric property perturbations, which occur when atmospheric properties are perturbed by an amount approximately equal to the variability of the10° zonal monthly deseasonalized anomalies or by a climate-model-predicted decadal change. Nonlinear changes in the spectral radiances of magnitudes similar to those obtained through linear estimation can arise when cloud heights and droplet radii in water cloud change. The spectral shapes computed by perturbing different atmospheric and cloud properties are different so that linear regression can separate individual spectral radiance changes from the sum of the spectral radiance change. When the effects of small-scale variability are treated as noise, however, the error in retrieved cloud properties is large. The results suggest the importance of considering small-scale variability in inferring atmospheric and cloud property changes from the satellite-observed zonally and annually averaged spectral radiance difference.

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