The purpose of this paper is to assess the potential of a spaceborne 94-GHz radar for providing useful measurements of the vertical distribution and water content of ice clouds on a global scale.
Calculations of longwave (LW) fluxes for a number of model ice clouds are performed. These are used to determine the minimum cloud optical depth that will cause changes in the outgoing longwave radiation or flux divergence within a cloud layer greatear than 10 W m−2, and in surface downward LW flux greater than 5 W m−2, compared to the clear-sky value. These optical depth values are used as the definition of a “radiatively significant” cloud. Different “thresholds of radiative significance” are calculated for each of the three radiation parameters and also for tropical and midlatitude cirrus clouds. Extensive observational datasets of ice crystal size spectra from midlatitude and tropical cirrus are then used to assess the capability of a radar to meet these measurement requirements. A radar with a threshold of −30 dBZ should detect 99% (92%) of “radiatively significant” clouds in the midlatitudes (Tropics). This detection efficiency may be reduced significantly for tropical clouds at very low temperatures (−80°C).
The LW flux calculations are also used to establish the required accuracy within which the optical depth should be known in order to estimate LW fluxes or flux divergence to within specified limits of accuracy. Accuracy requirements are also expressed in terms of ice water content (IWC) because of the need to validate cloud parameterization schemes in general circulation models (GCMs). Estimates of IWC derived using radar alone and also using additional information to define the mean crystal size are considered. With crystal size information available, the IWC for samples with a horizontal scale of 12 km may be obtained with a bias of less than 8%. For IWC larger than 0.01 g m−3, the random error is in the range +50% to −35%, whereas for a value of 0.001 g m−3 the random error increases to between +80% and −45%. This level of accuracy also represents the best that may be achieved for estimates of the cloud optical depth and meets the requirements derived from LW flux calculations. In the absence of independent particle size information, the random error is within the range +85% to −55% for IWC greater than 0.01 g m−3. For the same IWC range, the estimated bias is few than ±15%. This accuracy is sufficient to provide useful constraints on GCM cloud parameteriation schemes.