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Lazaros Oreopoulos, Robert F. Cahalan, and Steven Platnick


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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Robert Pincus, Steven Platnick, Steven A. Ackerman, Richard S. Hemler, and Robert J. Patrick Hofmann


The properties of clouds that may be observed by satellite instruments, such as optical thickness and cloud-top pressure, are only loosely related to the way clouds are represented in models of the atmosphere. One way to bridge this gap is through “instrument simulators,” diagnostic tools that map the model representation to synthetic observations so that differences can be interpreted as model error. But simulators may themselves be restricted by limited information or by internal assumptions. This paper considers the extent to which instrument simulators are able to capture essential differences between the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP), two similar but independent estimates of cloud properties. The authors review the measurements and algorithms underlying these two cloud climatologies, introduce a MODIS simulator, and detail datasets developed for comparison with global models using ISCCP and MODIS simulators. In nature MODIS observes less midlevel cloudiness than ISCCP, consistent with the different methods used to determine cloud-top pressure; aspects of this difference are reproduced by the simulators. Differences in observed distributions of optical thickness, however, are not captured. The largest differences can be traced to different approaches to partly cloudy pixels, which MODIS excludes and ISCCP treats as homogeneous. These cover roughly 15% of the planet and account for most of the optically thinnest clouds. Instrument simulators cannot reproduce these differences because there is no way to synthesize partly cloudy pixels. Nonetheless, MODIS and ISCCP observations are consistent for all but the optically thinnest clouds, and models can be robustly evaluated using instrument simulators by integrating over the robust subset of observations.

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