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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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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
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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