Quantitative Estimates of Cloudiness over the Gulf Stream Locale Using GOES VAS Observations

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  • 1 Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
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Abstract

Fields of cloudiness derived from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite VISSR (Visible–Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer) Atmospheric Sounder are analyzed over the Gulf Stream locale (GSL) to investigate seasonal and geographical variations. The GSL in this study is defined as the region bounded from 31° to 38°N and 82° to 66°W. This region covers an area that includes the United States mid-Atlantic coast states, the Gulf Stream, and portions of the Sargasso Sea. Clouds over the GSL are found approximately three-quarters of the time between 1985 and 1993. However, large seasonal variations in the frequency of cloudiness exist. These seasonal variations show a distinct relationship to gradients in sea surface temperature (SST). For example, during winter when large SST gradients are present, large gradients in cloudiness are found. Clouds are observed least often during summer over the ocean portion of the GSL. This minimum coincides with an increase in atmospheric stability due to large-scale subsidence. Cloudiness is also found over the GSL in response to mesoscale convergence areas induced by sea surface temperature gradients. Geographical variations in cloudiness are found to be related to the meteorology of the region. During periods of cold-air advection, which are found most frequently in winter, clouds are found less often between the coastline and the core of the Gulf Stream and more often over the Sargasso Sea. During cyclogenesis, large cloud shields often develop and cover the entire domain.

Satellite estimates of cloudiness are found to be least reliable over land at night during the cold months. In these situations, the cloud retrieval algorithm often mistakes clear sky for low clouds. Satellite-derived cloudiness over land is compared with daytime surface observations of cloudiness. Results indicate that retrieved cloudiness agrees well with surface observations. Relative humidity fields taken from global analyses are compared with satellite cloud heights at three levels in the atmosphere. Cloudiness observed at these levels is found at relative humidities in the 75%–100% range but is also observed at humidities as low as 26%.

Abstract

Fields of cloudiness derived from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite VISSR (Visible–Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer) Atmospheric Sounder are analyzed over the Gulf Stream locale (GSL) to investigate seasonal and geographical variations. The GSL in this study is defined as the region bounded from 31° to 38°N and 82° to 66°W. This region covers an area that includes the United States mid-Atlantic coast states, the Gulf Stream, and portions of the Sargasso Sea. Clouds over the GSL are found approximately three-quarters of the time between 1985 and 1993. However, large seasonal variations in the frequency of cloudiness exist. These seasonal variations show a distinct relationship to gradients in sea surface temperature (SST). For example, during winter when large SST gradients are present, large gradients in cloudiness are found. Clouds are observed least often during summer over the ocean portion of the GSL. This minimum coincides with an increase in atmospheric stability due to large-scale subsidence. Cloudiness is also found over the GSL in response to mesoscale convergence areas induced by sea surface temperature gradients. Geographical variations in cloudiness are found to be related to the meteorology of the region. During periods of cold-air advection, which are found most frequently in winter, clouds are found less often between the coastline and the core of the Gulf Stream and more often over the Sargasso Sea. During cyclogenesis, large cloud shields often develop and cover the entire domain.

Satellite estimates of cloudiness are found to be least reliable over land at night during the cold months. In these situations, the cloud retrieval algorithm often mistakes clear sky for low clouds. Satellite-derived cloudiness over land is compared with daytime surface observations of cloudiness. Results indicate that retrieved cloudiness agrees well with surface observations. Relative humidity fields taken from global analyses are compared with satellite cloud heights at three levels in the atmosphere. Cloudiness observed at these levels is found at relative humidities in the 75%–100% range but is also observed at humidities as low as 26%.

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