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Uncertainty in Cloud Optical Depth Estimates Made from Satellite Radiance Measurements

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  • 1 Geophysics Program, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 Programme in Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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Abstract

The uncertainty in optical depths retrieved from satellite measurements of visible wavelength radiance at the top of the atmosphere is quantified. Techniques are briefly reviewed for the estimation of optical depth from measurements of radiance, and it is noted that these estimates are always more uncertain at greater optical depths and larger solar zenith angles. The lack of radiometric calibration for visible wavelength imagers on operational satellites dominates the uncertainty retrievals of optical depth. This is true for both single-pixel retrievals and for statistics calculated from a population of individual retrievals. For individual estimates or small samples, sensor discretization (especially for the VAS instrument) can also be significant, but the sensitivity of the retrieval to the specification of the model atmosphere is less important. The relative uncertainty in calibration affects the accuracy with which optical depth distributions measured by different sensors may be quantitatively compared, while the absolute calibration uncertainty, acting through the nonlinear mapping of radiance to optical depth, limits the degree to which distributions measured by the same sensor may be distinguished.

Abstract

The uncertainty in optical depths retrieved from satellite measurements of visible wavelength radiance at the top of the atmosphere is quantified. Techniques are briefly reviewed for the estimation of optical depth from measurements of radiance, and it is noted that these estimates are always more uncertain at greater optical depths and larger solar zenith angles. The lack of radiometric calibration for visible wavelength imagers on operational satellites dominates the uncertainty retrievals of optical depth. This is true for both single-pixel retrievals and for statistics calculated from a population of individual retrievals. For individual estimates or small samples, sensor discretization (especially for the VAS instrument) can also be significant, but the sensitivity of the retrieval to the specification of the model atmosphere is less important. The relative uncertainty in calibration affects the accuracy with which optical depth distributions measured by different sensors may be quantitatively compared, while the absolute calibration uncertainty, acting through the nonlinear mapping of radiance to optical depth, limits the degree to which distributions measured by the same sensor may be distinguished.

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