Cirrus Clouds

Andrew J. Heymsfield National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Martina Krämer Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Jülich, Germany

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Anna Luebke Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Jülich, Germany

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Phil Brown Met Office, Exeter, United Kingdom

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Daniel J. Cziczo Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Charmaine Franklin CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Aspendale, Victoria, Australia

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Paul Lawson SPEC Inc., Boulder, Colorado

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Ulrike Lohmann ETH, Zurich, Switzerland

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Greg McFarquhar University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

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Zbigniew Ulanowski University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, United Kingdom

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Kristof Van Tricht Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

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Abstract

The goal of this chapter is to synthesize information about what is now known about one of the three main types of clouds, cirrus, and to identify areas where more knowledge is needed. Cirrus clouds, composed of ice particles, form in the upper troposphere, where temperatures are generally below −30°C. Satellite observations show that the maximum-occurrence frequency of cirrus is near the tropics, with a large latitudinal movement seasonally. In situ measurements obtained over a wide range of cirrus types, formation mechanisms, temperatures, and geographical locations indicate that the ice water content and particle size generally decrease with decreasing temperature, whereas the ice particle concentration is nearly constant or increases slightly with decreasing temperature. High ice concentrations, sometimes observed in strong updrafts, result from homogeneous nucleation. The satellite-based and in situ measurements indicate that cirrus ice crystals typically differ from the simple, idealized geometry for smooth hexagonal shapes, indicating complexity and/or surface roughness. Their shapes significantly impact cirrus radiative properties and feedbacks to climate. Cirrus clouds, one of the most uncertain components of general circulation models (GCM), pose one of the greatest challenges in predicting the rate and geographical pattern of climate change. Improved measurements of the properties and size distributions and surface structure of small ice crystals (about 20 μm) and identifying the dominant ice nucleation process (heterogeneous versus homogeneous ice nucleation) under different cloud dynamical forcings will lead to a better representation of their properties in GCM and in modeling their current and future effects on climate.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Current affiliation: Bureau of Meteorology, Docklands, Victoria, Australia.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author e-mail: Martina Krämer, m.kraemer@fz-juelich.de

Abstract

The goal of this chapter is to synthesize information about what is now known about one of the three main types of clouds, cirrus, and to identify areas where more knowledge is needed. Cirrus clouds, composed of ice particles, form in the upper troposphere, where temperatures are generally below −30°C. Satellite observations show that the maximum-occurrence frequency of cirrus is near the tropics, with a large latitudinal movement seasonally. In situ measurements obtained over a wide range of cirrus types, formation mechanisms, temperatures, and geographical locations indicate that the ice water content and particle size generally decrease with decreasing temperature, whereas the ice particle concentration is nearly constant or increases slightly with decreasing temperature. High ice concentrations, sometimes observed in strong updrafts, result from homogeneous nucleation. The satellite-based and in situ measurements indicate that cirrus ice crystals typically differ from the simple, idealized geometry for smooth hexagonal shapes, indicating complexity and/or surface roughness. Their shapes significantly impact cirrus radiative properties and feedbacks to climate. Cirrus clouds, one of the most uncertain components of general circulation models (GCM), pose one of the greatest challenges in predicting the rate and geographical pattern of climate change. Improved measurements of the properties and size distributions and surface structure of small ice crystals (about 20 μm) and identifying the dominant ice nucleation process (heterogeneous versus homogeneous ice nucleation) under different cloud dynamical forcings will lead to a better representation of their properties in GCM and in modeling their current and future effects on climate.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Current affiliation: Bureau of Meteorology, Docklands, Victoria, Australia.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author e-mail: Martina Krämer, m.kraemer@fz-juelich.de
Keywords: Cirrus clouds

1. Introduction

There are 10 basic cloud types, grouped into three primary categories: high clouds, mid clouds, and low clouds (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/srh/jetstream/clouds/cloudwise/types.html). The focus of this study is to characterize the macrophysical and microphysical properties of the high clouds: cirrus. The motivation for this chapter comes from workshops conducted on “Data Analysis and Presentation of Cloud Microphysical Measurements” in Seaside, Oregon, in 2010, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich in 2013, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2014. There was a clear need identified at the workshop and in discussions that followed to provide a synthesis of the current understanding of cirrus.

The focus of this chapter is to use observations of, and measurements within, cirrus clouds to characterize their properties. We describe the macrophysical properties of cirrus, how they form, their microphysical properties, their radiative properties, and their feedbacks to climate. The chapter concludes with a summary of areas in need of further study.

2. General description of cirrus types and macroscale properties

The Glossary of Meteorology (Huschke 1970) defines cirrus clouds as detached clouds in the form of white, delicate filaments, or white or mostly white patches, that are composed of ice crystals. Cirrus clouds form primarily in the upper troposphere, above about 8 km (25 000 ft), where temperatures are generally below −30°C. From tropical to polar regions, the frequency of cirrus cloud occurrence decreases from about 33% to 7%, median cirrus cloud-top heights decrease from 14 to 8 km, cloud thickness decreases from 2.8 to 1.4 km, and cloud-top temperatures increases from about −73° to −60°C (Sassen et al. 2008, 2009; see Figs. 2-22-4, below). Cirrus clouds can be horizontally and vertically extensive, especially when they are the result of ice mass outflow from thunderstorms. An excellent cirrus cloud coverage climatology has been derived from a large set of cloud observations collected over decades from observations at the ground and from ships (Hahn and Warren 2007; see Fig. 2-1). The statistics indicate that the coverage is about 30% over North America and Asia, of the same order over parts of Europe that are not blocked by lower cloud, is in the 15%–20% range over South America, and as high as 50% over equatorial regions of Africa, diminishing toward 10% in the southernmost regions of Africa and about 10% over Australia. In the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere, averages are on the order of 20%–45% and in the Southern Hemisphere they are about 25%.

Fig. 2-1.
Fig. 2-1.

Fractional cirrus cloud coverage as obtained from a large database of observations collected at the ground and from ships over the period of 1971–96 (see text). Figure kindly prepared by Ryan Eastman, University of Washington.

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

The primary cirrus cloud types are cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus. Cirrus are fibrous, threadlike, white feather clouds of ice crystals that resembles hair curls in form. Details can be found in WMO (1956) and in American Meteorological Society (2012) but are summarized here. Cirrostratus, the most frequently occurring cirrus clouds, which are found in layers or sheets with horizontal dimensions of hundreds or even thousands of kilometers, are a milky, translucent cloud veil of ice crystals, which sometimes cause the appearance of halos around the moon and sun. Cirrocumulus are fleecy clouds, with cloud banks of small, white flakes.

Each of the primary cirrus types have species associated with them. The category cirrus includes the subspecies uncinus, which form in a patchy or tufted shape when the ice crystals are large enough to acquire an appreciable fall velocity (the rate at which ice crystals fall in the vertical) so that trails of considerable vertical extent (fallstreaks) may form. These trails curve irregularly or slant, sometimes with a commalike shape, as a result of changes in the horizontal wind velocity with height and variations in the fall velocity of the ice crystals. Cirrostratus includes the species fibratus, which have fibrous veils. Cirrocumulus includes the species lenticularis, which are lens shaped or almond shaped, often long stretched bands with sharply minted outlines and are often associated with mountainous areas.

There are particularly noteworthy aspects of cirrus clouds: for example, in tropical regions, subvisual cirrus clouds occur sometimes in the tropopause. Cirrus cloud optical depths (cloud optical density, essentially the cross sectional area of the ice particles integrated from the top to bottom of the column) can be large, as would be the case for deep thunderstorm anvils, but they are observed most frequently with optical depths below 0.1 (Sassen et al. 2008; Kox et al. 2014).

A wispy layered cloud that forms at the top of a thunderstorm, termed an anvil because of its shape, is a cirrus that consists essentially of ice debris that spreads outward from the convective parts of the storm. Anvils do not include the white, dense portions of thunderstorms or the active convective column. Anvils can spread to form large, widespread cloud layers, especially in tropical areas, which can persist after their convective cloud source has disappeared.

The cirruslike low-level ice clouds and ice fogs of the Arctic are not considered cirrus. Nor are altocumulus clouds, which form in distinct layers, often less than 100 m thick, in the midtroposphere at about 5 to 8 km. They are identified from the ground as sharply outlined clouds reflecting their tendency to a liquid water composition containing rounded, often bubblelike convective elements. Cirrus often merge with altocumulus clouds, producing a deep ice-cloud layer.

Planetary-scale mapping of cirrus cloud occurrence and properties requires satellite remote sensing. However, it has proven to be difficult to detect cirrus clouds from space using passive radiance measurements, owing to their thin optical depth and their frequent occurrence as part of multilayered cloud systems (Sassen et al. 2008). With the launch of the NASA CloudSat and Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) in 2006, cloud observations from space entered a new era. Both satellites are part of the Afternoon Train (A-Train) constellation, with CloudSat carrying a cloud profiling radar and CALIPSO carrying a depolarization lidar [Cloud–Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP); Stephens et al. 2002; Winker et al. 2009]. The near-simultaneous and coincident observations by a millimeter radar that can penetrate optically thicker clouds and a lidar that is sensitive to optically thin clouds have allowed vertically resolved profiling of cloud layers with an unprecedented accuracy (Mace et al. 2009). Since the launch of CloudSat and CALIPSO, many retrieval algorithms have been developed, and our knowledge on global cirrus distributions and characterization has greatly improved. In addition to active-only cloud observations from space, Delanoë and Hogan (2010) showed how additional assimilation of coincident infrared radiances from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) can further improve the retrieval of ice cloud locations and their microphysical properties.

Cirrus clouds as observed from CloudSat/CALIPSO radar and lidar observations have been derived through a combined cloud boundary data product (Mace and Zhang 2014). In general, cirrus cloud tops are derived exclusively from CALIOP lidar backscatter data, owing to the characteristically small crystal sizes for which a millimeter radar is not sensitive. Cirrus cloud bases, in turn, are mostly detectable by both lidar and cloud physics radar (CPR) backscattering. Yet cloud radar data have proven their use for the detection of cirrus cloud bases, especially in relatively thick cirrus clouds that completely attenuate the lidar beam (optical depths larger than 3–5) (Sassen et al. 2008; Winker et al. 2010).

Sassen et al. (2008) define two basic criteria that must be satisfied to classify the detected cloud layers as cirrus, including a maximum visible optical depth τ of ≈3.0 and a maximum allowable cirrus cloud-top temperature of −40°C, the homogenous freezing point of pure water. Using this methodology, Sassen et al. (2008) found a global average frequency of cirrus cloud occurrence of 16.7% from the first year of CloudSat/CALIPSO data collected (Fig. 2-2), with a significant proportion of this cirrus cloud cover in the tropical and subtropical zonal belts (56% of the total cirrus coverage occurs within ±30° latitude of the equator). Moreover, cirrus display a strong nocturnal frequency increase, in particular over land, of up to ~30% (Wylie et al. 1994; Sassen et al. 2009; see Fig. 2-3). Cirrus detections by CloudSat/CALIPSO further reveal the relatively high altitude of occurrence (Fig. 2-4), as expected from the results of other sources. Using CALIPSO data, Nazaryan et al. (2008) show that the maximum-occurrence frequency of up to 70% is found near the tropics over the 100°–180°E longitude band. They found a large latitudinal movement of cirrus cloud cover with the changing seasons. The examination of the vertical distribution of cirrus clouds shows the maximum of cirrus top-altitude occurrence frequency of approximately 11% at 16 km in the tropics.

Fig. 2-2.
Fig. 2-2.

Global distribution of average frequency of occurrence of cirrus clouds identified by CloudSat/CALIPSO within 5.0° lat × 5.0° lon grid boxes. These data are 1-yr averages of daylight and nighttime measurements and of single and multiple cirrus layers (from Sassen et al. 2008).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

Fig. 2-3.
Fig. 2-3.

Zonal average occurrence (%) for (left) day and (right) night of global total, subvisual, thin, and opaque cirrus clouds and of deep convective clouds (DCC) (from Sassen et al. 2009).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

Fig. 2-4.
Fig. 2-4.

Latitudinal distribution of identified heights of occurrence of cirrus clouds derived for 0.2-km height and 2.5° grid intervals. The line shows the mean tropopause heights averaged over the same 1-yr period, as taken from CALIPSO data files (from Sassen et al. 2008).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

A drawback of the polar-orbiting CloudSat/CALIPSO satellites is their limited temporal resolution, with a repeat cycle of 16 days. Observation of full cirrus life cycles is therefore limited. Kox et al. (2014) have shown how retrievals from CloudSat/CALIPSO can be complemented by measurements of the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI) aboard the geostationary Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satellite. Their algorithm retrieves cirrus optical depths (between 0.1 and 2.5) and top altitude every 15 min, covers almost one-third of Earth’s atmosphere, and is trained based on coincident CALIPSO retrievals.

As a result of their frequent occurrence, height in the atmosphere, and opacity (Sassen et al. 2008; Kox et al. 2014; see also Figs. 2-22-4), cirrus modulate the amount of solar radiative energy received by the climate system, reflecting a portion of the incident sunlight back to outer space. They also control the loss of energy to space by their effect on outgoing infrared radiation emanating from Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere. Important feedbacks involving cirrus, their water content, and optical properties and their influences on climate have been proposed (Ramanathan and Collins 1991; IPCC 2013). Cirrus also play a vital role in Earth’s energy budget through their effects on the surface albedo and generation of latent heat released in regions of ice crystal growth. Cirrus clouds are also an important component of the planetary energy budget because of their large spatial extent and their strong interaction with radiation fields, both at solar wavelengths (visible light, below about 0.8 microns) and infrared (Ramaswamy and Detwiler 1986). The net radiation (infrared plus solar) is related to their optical depth. When cirrus clouds are thin enough that the sun can be seen through them, the net impact on the planetary radiation balance is generally warming; thicker cirrus reflect more sunlight and generally result in net cooling.

3. Cirrus formation mechanisms

Generally speaking, ice particles form after a moist parcel of air cools to the temperature at which the water vapor is supersaturated with respect to ice up to the onset point of ice nucleation. The supersaturation is produced primarily by lifting of the air parcel but can be maintained or enhanced by radiational cooling (Fusina and Spichtinger 2010). Lifting can occur on a large scale along a frontal boundary or by small-scale vertical circulations that develop in the vicinity of the core of the jet stream (Heymsfield et al. 1975; Heymsfield et al. 2010) or in convective clouds and gravity waves. In addition, cirrus clouds can form in layers that have dry or moist adiabatic thermal structures.

Cirrus cloud formation and development is in part influenced by radiative effects. Radiative cooling in moist upper-tropospheric layers can lead to cloud development in much the same way it leads to ground fog (Ramaswamy and Detwiler 1986). In addition, radiative heating, which usually warms the lower portions of a cirrus cloud, can warm the cloud layer and consequently produce convection (updrafts and downdrafts) and turbulence of sufficient strength to maintain or enhance the layer. This is particularly relevant in tropical anvils. For example, Ackerman et al. (1988) found anvil average heating rates for 2-km-deep anvils is on the order of 20–30 K day−1, leading to convective instability in the anvil, an effect studied by Lilly (1988) and others more recently. The radiative heating of thin tropical tropopause layer (TTL) cirrus, at altitudes from 14 to 18 km and also at low latitudes, has been estimated as sufficient to produce temperature increases of at least 2–3 K day−1 (Jensen et al. 1996; McFarquhar et al. 2000). As noted by Garrett (2008), observational studies suggest that TTL cirrus are often coincident with regions of deep convective cloud. Their numerical simulations demonstrated that an anvil cirrus spreads because strong absorption of thermal radiation and emission at cloud base and top creates horizontal heating gradients between the cloud and its environment. Durran et al. (2009) analytically and numerically examined the potential of this radiative heating on the TTL dynamics. They found that the layer exhibits rising motion, ~0.5 cm s−1, and horizontal outflow from its top, producing gravity waves. These studies suggest that tropopause cirrus can affect climate indirectly by altering anvil cirrus dynamics.

The formation mechanisms of cirrus clouds differ according to the required supersaturations to form ice and the number of ice crystals that are produced. Classifying cirrus by means of the formation mechanisms leads to cirrus types characterized by physical parameters, besides those embedded in the terminology of the WMO (1956) for all cloud types (see section 2a), which are defined based on morphology derived from observations of visual appearance. Lynch et al. (2002) stated that particularly ice content, but also temperature, altitude, color ,and optical depth are relevant physical parameters for cirrus definitions, and some of these parameters can be deduced from the formation mechanisms (see also Sassen et al. 2002).

Below a temperature of −38°C, activation of liquid water drops does not occur, since the relative humidity where ice forms is below water saturation (Heymsfield and Miloshevich 1993). At warmer temperatures, clouds can form via vapor deposition onto an ice nucleating particle (INP) or as liquid drops, which may freeze either heterogeneously due to an insoluble INP embedded in the droplet (see Kanji et al. 2017, chapter 1) or homogeneously without any insoluble inclusion at −38°C. These clouds can be partly or completely glaciated and are not cirrus clouds, but so-called mixed-phase clouds.

If a mixed-phase or all-liquid cloud is, however, lifted by atmospheric updrafts to altitudes with temperatures < −38°C, it is considered a cirrus. Luebke et al. (2016) and Krämer et al. (2016) classified this cirrus type as “liquid origin cirrus.” They are found in the strong updrafts caused by deep convection [and are also called convective or anvil cirrus; Lynch et al. (2002); Sassen et al. (2002); Muhlbauer et al. (2014), Jackson et al. (2015)], but also in slower updrafts in connection to warm conveyor belts (Krämer et al. 2016).

At temperatures <−38°C, cirrus clouds are formed from insoluble or solution aerosol particles, either heterogeneously or homogeneously. This cloud type is classified as “in situ cirrus” by Heymsfield (1977). Krämer et al. (2016) summarized “in situ origin cirrus” as those cirrus types that are named in other studies “synoptic” in slow updrafts and “lee wave,” “gravity wave,” “orographic,” or “jet stream” cirrus in faster updrafts (Lynch et al. 2002; Sassen et al. 2002; Muhlbauer et al. 2014; Jackson et al. 2015). In the next subsections, the heterogeneous and homogeneous in situ ice formation processes are described, while heterogeneous or homogeneous drop freezing—which leads to the liquid origin cirrus—is discussed in Cziczo et al. (2017, chapter 8).

a. Homogeneous and heterogeneous ice nucleation in cirrus clouds

Homogeneous freezing is the spontaneous formation of ice within a supercooled activated cloud droplet or a pure solution aerosol particle (see Fig. 2-5, left; note that the concentrated solution aerosol particles are also named haze droplets, since they have grown hygroscopically in high humidities). Droplets/drops freeze spontaneously at a temperature of −38°C, and freezing of solution droplets (haze particles) occurs at progressively lower relative humidities as the temperature decreases below −38°C (Heymsfield and Miloshevich 1993). The haze droplet that freezes homogeneously is also termed a homogeneous freezing nucleus (HFN). The process of homogeneous freezing is well defined and the subject of a comprehensive treatment by Koop et al. (2000), where it has been shown to be a function of the particle volume and water activity. It is important to note that at sufficient supersaturation all atmospheric particles may serve as HFN. However, atmospheric supersaturations are driven by the updraft of an air parcel and temperature. Hence, the number of ice crystals nucleated by homogeneous freezing increases with increasing updraft and decreasing temperature (Heymsfield and Miloshevich 1993). This is shown in Fig. 2-6, where concentrations of homogeneously nucleated ice crystals are calculated by Kärcher and Lohmann (2002) for a range of atmospheric updrafts. They found 0.001 to several hundreds of ice crystals per centimeter cubed with mean mass radii ranging between ~100 and 3 μm, respectively (Krämer et al. 2016). However, observations show that the most frequent ice concentrations are around 0.1–1 cm−3 (Krämer et al. 2009). This could suggest that the updrafts where most cirrus form are weak (see Fig. 2-6) or that heterogeneous ice nucleation often plays a role in the atmosphere.

Fig. 2-5.
Fig. 2-5.

Cirrus formation: two ways of ice formation determined by aerosol composition and supersaturation over ice.

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

Fig. 2-6.
Fig. 2-6.

Ice crystal number ni dependence on vertical velocity w for purely homogeneous freezing (Kärcher and Lohmann 2002).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

Heterogeneous ice nucleation is more poorly understood than homogeneous freezing because there are several submechanisms by which ice is formed (see Fig. 2-5, right). Each of these submechanisms is fundamentally different from one another. Heterogeneous freezing can potentially begin as soon as the temperature is below 0°C and saturation of water vapor with respect to ice is reached. Heterogeneous ice nucleation requires a solid particle or inclusion, termed the INP [Pruppacher and Klett (1997); see also Kanji et al. (2017, chapter 1)]. The heterogeneous mechanisms that act in the cirrus temperature range are 1) immersion/condensation freezing and 2) deposition nucleation. 1) Immersion/condensation freezing is the formation of ice within an INP that is immersed in a shell of water that condensed while the air is cooling. There have been slight terminology differences based on the history of the immersed INP, but the two mechanisms are now considered synonymous. 2) Depositional freezing is the direct accumulation of ice on to the INP surface. A currently unresolved mechanism is “preconditioning” of an INP (Pruppacher and Klett 1997; Kärcher and Lohmann 2003; Wagner et al. 2016). In this case, a previous freezing cycle leaves some ice on or within a particle that then leads to more rapid ice formation if a suitable temperature and saturation are again reached. Heterogeneous freezing is affected by the size, surface composition, and morphology of the INP (Pruppacher and Klett 1997). DeMott et al. (2003) and DeMott et al. (2010) have shown INPs are rare in the background free troposphere, 10–100 L−1 (0.01–0.1 cm−3), but with extremely limited measurements below −38°C; at warmer temperatures the INP concentration can be related to the presence of aerosol larger than 0.5 μm (DeMott et al. 2010). Some INPs can be referred to as relatively “good” and others as relatively “bad”; examples of each are listed in Fig. 2-5 (right panel), with a quantitative representation given in Cziczo et al. (2013).

A cirrus cloud that forms heterogeneously is therefore expected to be different from one that forms homogeneously, especially in updrafts ≥10 cm s−1, because it would contain <100 ice crystals (i.e., no more than the concentration of INPs in the initiating cloud parcel). Even with weaker updrafts, the ice crystal concentrations and sizes are modulated in the presence of INPs (Kärcher and Lohmann 2003; Spichtinger and Cziczo 2010). The effect of INPs on ice crystal concentrations is in most cases fewer ice crystals than due to pure homogeneous freezing. However, in very low updrafts, where homogeneous freezing produces only few ice crystals, heterogeneous freezing can create more ice crystals when the INP number exceeds the homogeneously formed ice (Kärcher and Lohmann 2003). Consequently, the sizes of the ice crystals are smaller when more ice crystals are produced, while fewer nucleated ice particles results in larger crystals.

Thus, the characterization of INPs, in particular in the cirrus temperature range, is one of the important open questions in the field of ice cloud research. This knowledge gap can be traced back to instrumentation capable of operating at ambient temperatures and/or sampling the complete size distribution of ice crystals.

b. Atmospheric importance of cirrus freezing mechanisms

The important aspect of atmospheric ice nucleation is that heterogeneous ice nucleation mechanisms are active at lower supersaturations (i.e., before homogeneous freezing) (Fig. 2-5). That is to say a parcel reaching homogeneous freezing must first pass through temperatures and saturations sufficient to cause heterogeneously formed ice. This has been considered by researchers such as Kärcher and Lohmann (2003), Kay et al. (2006), and Krämer et al. (2016). The combination of INP abundance, its freezing supersaturation, and how rapidly a trajectory is traversed (i.e., the vertical velocity) determines where and by what mechanism a cirrus cloud forms and thus also which microphysical properties, such as ice crystal number and size, ice water content, and shape and surface texture of ice crystals, the cloud has.

This is important since these microphysical properties of cirrus, for example, regulate the vertical redistribution of water from sedimenting ice crystals in the upper troposphere and, consequently, the water exchange with the lower stratosphere (Krämer et al. 2016). The upper-troposphere/lower-stratosphere region is especially sensitive to even small changes in water vapor, since it is a greenhouse gas, and radiative transfer calculations show that the small mass of water vapor in the lower stratosphere plays a significant role in controlling surface temperatures (see, e.g., Riese et al. 2012).

Further, to define the impact of cirrus on Earth’s radiative budget (see section 5), it is critical to determine how the microphysical and thus radiative properties of ice particles in cirrus depend on environmental conditions and formation mechanisms. DeMott et al. (2010) provided a sketch on the possible relation between INP number, cirrus appearance, and radiative feedback of the cirrus clouds (Fig. 2-7): in case only few INPs are available (left panel), the few formed ice crystals cannot efficiently deplete the water vapor, and the supersaturation increases until homogeneous ice nucleation occurs and a cirrus with many small ice crystals forms at high and cold conditions. These thin cirrus have a net warming effect. If more INPs are available (right panel), heterogeneous freezing produces a lower, warmer, and thicker cirrus with fewer but larger crystals, which efficiently reduces the supersaturation so that homogeneous ice nucleation is suppressed (Krämer et al. 2016). The net radiative effect of such cirrus is unknown. Thus, it is obvious that dependencies are needed to develop and evaluate parameterizations of ice cloud properties for models with a myriad of different spatial and temporal scales and for evaluation of the model results themselves. Observations of ice cloud properties can be obtained from both in situ observations and remote sensing retrievals, the latter of which require in situ observations to evaluate assumptions used in the retrieval schemes.

Fig. 2-7.
Fig. 2-7.

The effect of the number of ice nuclei on cirrus cloud coverage and radiative effects (from DeMott et al. 2010).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

The ice water content and distributions of ice crystal sizes and shapes are the most important microphysical quantities for determining how cirrus impact radiative heating (e.g., Ackerman et al. 1988; Macke et al. 1996) and for developing an understanding of the microphysical and dynamical processes occurring in cirrus. In addition, distributions of crystal aspect ratios (Fu 2007; Um and McFarquhar 2007; Yang and Fu 2009) and knowledge of single-scattering properties (e.g., Takano and Liou 1989; Yang et al. 2005) and ice crystal surface roughness (Yang et al. 2003) are needed for quantifying the radiative impact. Although many prior studies have measured distributions of ice water content (IWC) (Schiller et al. 2008; Luebke et al. 2013; Heymsfield et al. 2013; Krämer et al. 2016), ice crystal sizes (Heymsfield and Platt 1984; McFarquhar and Heymsfield 1996, 1997, 1998; Ivanova et al. 2001; Boudala et al. 2002; Field and Heymsfield 2003; McFarquhar et al. 2007a; Field et al. 2007), of crystal habits (Heymsfield and Miloshevich 1995; Korolev et al. 1999; Gallagher et al. 2005; Um and McFarquhar 2009), and of aspect ratios (Auer and Veal 1970; Hobbs et al. 1974; Davis 1974; Mitchell and Arnott 1994; Baker and Lawson 2006; Um et al. 2015) in different environmental conditions, there are few comprehensive studies that have identified the manner in which the nucleation mechanism or cirrus formation mechanism controls these ice crystal properties. A larger database where properties are examined as a function of meteorological or crystal formation mechanisms (e.g., Muhlbauer et al. 2014; Jackson et al. 2015; Krämer et al. 2016) is still needed to understand how different growth processes and formation mechanisms control the microphysical and radiative properties.

4. Microphysical properties

The most important microphysical quantities of cirrus clouds are (besides crystal aspect ratios, single-scattering properties, and surface roughness) the IWC, the ice particle size distributions (PSD), and their shapes. Characteristics of cirrus IWC, ice particle size distributions, and associated size spectral moments (median diameter and ice water content) have been reported in a number of studies. Korolev et al. (2001) present a large set of observations in continental stratiform cirrus clouds over eastern Europe at temperatures from −30° to −50°C. The IWC was measured with a Nevzorov total water content probe and the volume extinction coefficient with an extinctiometer. Median values of the IWC decreased from 0.011 g m−3 in the temperature range −40° < T < −30°C to 0.007 g m−3 for −50° < T < −40°C. Cumulative probability distributions of the IWCs in these temperature intervals for these temperatures are presented in Fig. 5a of Korolev et al. (2001). Note that these IWCs may be somewhat underestimated because the IWC measurements were made with the older Nevzorov cone, not the updated deep dish cone that reduces the amount of ice that bounces out of the cone (Korolev et al. 2013). Also note that the probe measures IWCs in the range of about 3 × 10−3 to 2 g m−3; thus, IWCs below the instruments’ detection threshold suggest that the median values may be overestimated (see discussion below). The most globally diverse datasets are from the studies of Heymsfield and McFarquhar (2002), Schiller et al. (2008), Luebke et al. (2013), Heymsfield et al. (2013), and Krämer et al. (2016). These include data from the Arctic, midlatitude Northern Hemisphere, and tropical Northern and Southern Hemisphere regions. Altitudes extend to almost 19 km and sampling temperatures to −86°C. An overview of these cirrus properties will now be given, followed by a section describing the feedback of cirrus clouds on climate.

a. Ice water content

Two studies that collected a large number of direct measurements of the IWC in diverse geographical areas are summarized here. Krämer et al. (2016) compiled a set of direct measurements of the IWC from 17 field programs over Europe, Africa, the Seychelles, Brazil, Australia, the United States, and Costa Rica, totaling 94 h of in situ data. The geographical range is from 75°N to 25°S, and the temperature range is from −25° to −91°C. Heymsfield et al. (2016) reported the direct measurements of the IWC derived from 10 aircraft field programs over North and Central America, the Caribbean, and Australia, spanning latitudes from the Arctic to the tropics and temperatures from −86° to 0°C. This dataset contains about 260 000 data points, averaged over 5-s intervals, with an in-cloud pathlength of about 260 000 km. To examine both the temperature dependence of the IWC and its variability, we have used their original data to derive probability distribution functions (PDFs) of the IWC as a function of temperature. Within the 10°C temperature increments shown in Fig. 2-8, the IWC displays considerable variability, the result of different formation mechanisms (Krämer et al. 2016), geographical location (Heymsfield et al. 2016), and presumably life cycle. The median values of the IWC in each temperature interval, listed at the top of each panel in Fig. 2-8, indicate that the IWC increases with temperature. The rather large differences between the Krämer et al. (2016) and Heymsfield et al. (2016) studies has to do in part with the former study focusing more on stratiform clouds and the latter more on convective clouds. Some of the difference is also due to differences in the IWC measurement ranges of the instruments used in those studies.

Fig. 2-8.
Fig. 2-8.

Probability distributions of the ice water content measured in 10°C increments of temperature, with median values per 10°C listed in the top of each panel: (a) from the original data reported in Krämer et al. (2016) and (b) from the original data reported in Heymsfield et al. (2016).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

The in situ observations have an inherent sampling bias in that they are usually directed toward measuring specific types of clouds and, more generally, clouds that are in their active, rather than decaying, stages. For that reason and to gain a more comprehensive structure, we draw upon ice water contents globally retrieved by CloudSat over a 6-yr period. The CloudSat Ice Cloud Property Product (2C-ICE) contains retrieved estimates of the IWC for identified ice clouds measured by the CloudSat CPR and the CALIPSO lidar. This 2C-ICE cloud product uses combined inputs of the measured radar reflectivity factor from CloudSat and measured attenuated backscattering coefficients at 532 nm from the CALIPSO lidar to constrain the ice cloud retrieval more tightly than the radar-only product. Temperature is derived from the ECMWF auxiliary (ECMWF-AUX) temperature product. According to the authors, this generates more accurate results, particularly at the lower temperatures (Deng et al. 2015). We will address that point below. Note that, as with any retrieval algorithm, there are inherent uncertainties; the retrieval accuracy is examined using case studies (Deng et al. 2013) and statistics (Heymsfield et al. 2016).

Using the 2C-ICE stratiform and convective cloud flags, Fig. 2-9 shows the probability distribution function of IWC as a function of temperature, partitioned by stratiform and convective clouds (Figs. 2-9a and 2-9b, respectively). Because the dataset is extremely large, it is possible to derive PDFs in 1°C temperature increments, thereby eliminating variance in the PDFs due to the ±5°C temperature increments necessary for the in situ data. In Table 2-1, the median IWCs for all ice cloud situations and the separation according to stratiform and convective situations are listed.

Fig. 2-9.
Fig. 2-9.

Probability distributions of the ice water content retrieved from the CloudSat 2C-ICE product for the period 2006–10. Each PDF is for a 1°C temperature interval over the temperature range shown. (a) For ice clouds flagged as stratiform. (b) For convective clouds.

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

Table 2-1.

Median values of the ice water content (g m−3) in given temperature intervals from the in situ data and from CloudSat retrievals.

Table 2-1.

The retrieved IWCs show a strong increase with temperature and wide variability at a given temperature, even for each cloud formation type (Figs. 2-9a,b). On average, the IWCs, particularly at the higher temperatures, are larger than for the in situ observations, although the spread is just as wide. Of particular note is that at the lowest temperatures, ~−85°C, the IWCs from the in situ observations (Fig. 2-9) are peaked at about an order of magnitude lower than the 2C-ICE distribution. This comparison suggests that the 2C-ICE product is missing a significant portion of the very thin, subvisual cirrus that was observed from the in situ observations.

Figure 2-10 uses the 2C-ICE product to derive the latitudinal dependence of the IWC for constant temperatures of −70° to −30°C in 10°C temperature increments. For stratiform and convective clouds combined, there is a dependence of the median IWC on latitude, with the highest values in the equatorial regions and the lowest in the polar regions (Fig. 2-10a). When convective clouds only are considered, a much stronger dependence on latitude is noted, with relatively high IWCs found in the tropical regions (Fig. 2-11a).

Fig. 2-10.
Fig. 2-10.

Ice water content as a function of latitude, partitioned by temperature as derived from the CloudSat 2C-ICE retrieval product. Colored lines represent different temperatures, and dotted lines are the ±1 standard deviation for a temperature of −40°C. (top) Stratiform and convective clouds. (bottom) Convective clouds.

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

Fig. 2-11.
Fig. 2-11.

Pictorial depiction of the growth of cirrus crystals downward in a cirrus cloud layer, using ice crystal replicator data collected from a balloon-borne system in a cirrus cloud with a top temperature of −43°C (from Miloshevich and Heymsfield 1997). The largest crystals are about 300 μm in diameter. The lines show the relative humidity with respect to water saturation as measured with three different instruments, and a fourth line (labeled RHi) shows the relative humidity with respect to saturation with respect to ice and the temperature at each level.

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

b. Cirrus ice crystal concentrations and size distributions

Many prior studies have measured size distributions in ice clouds. However, most of the earlier studies that reported cirrus crystal concentrations did not consider the artificial amplification of small crystal concentrations due to large crystal shattering on probe tips and are thus unreliable and should be used with caution [see Baumgardner et al. (2017, chapter 9) and articles by Korolev et al. (2011, 2013) and Jackson et al. (2014)]. Data acquired with the use of redesigned probe tips (Korolev et al. 2011) and those that use processing algorithms to eliminate artifacts (Field et al. 2006) are more reliable. Although Jackson and McFarquhar (2014) showed that higher-order moments derived from measurements in ice clouds are not significantly biased by shattering, quantities based on lower-order moments, such as total concentration and size distributions for diameter D < 200 μm, that did not use corrections for shattering or redesigned probe tips are suspect. A complete discussion of measurement issues and uncertainties is given in McFarquhar et al. (2017, chapter 11).

Ice crystal sizes generally increase downward in a cirrus cloud layer (Fig. 2-11) and as the temperature increases (Fig. 2-12). The PSD appear to fit well to gamma functions or exponential functions (e.g., Gunn and Marshall 1958; Wong et al. 1988; Heymsfield et al. 2002; McFarquhar and Black 2004; McFarquhar et al. 2007a; Heymsfield et al. 2009, 2013; Mitchell et al. 2010; Muhlbauer et al. 2014). The cirrus total ice concentrations generally fall in the range 5–500 L−1, with a gradual decrease noted with increasing temperature. Exceptions are noted in convective regions (temperatures below −40°C) and cirrus anvils and other situations that result from strong updrafts, where much larger concentrations have been observed (see Heymsfield et al. 2009). On average, the size distributions broaden with temperature, with larger and more numerous particles observed in the clouds that are associated with convection or that originate from liquid water regions (liquid origin), that glaciated as determined from liquid water sensing probes on the research aircraft (Fig. 2-12a) or from analysis of backward trajectories (Fig. 2-12b). In stratiform cirrus regions, where the cirrus-forming updrafts are relatively weak, the largest particles can still attain 1 mm or larger. These cirrus clouds can be the remnants of convection that has long since dissipated, but displaying a tendency for larger particles [the region from the Stratospheric–Climate Links with Emphasis on the Upper Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere (SCOUT) in Fig. 2-12a, lower panel]. The largest particle size in the measured PSD increases from about 50 μm to above 1 mm over the −86° to −40°C temperature range.

Fig. 2-12.
Fig. 2-12.

Cirrus ice PSD, in the form of concentrations measured per size bin normalized by the bin width, averaged in the specified temperature intervals corresponding to cirrus cloud forming temperatures. The PSD are based on (a) the dataset presented in Heymsfield et al. (2013) and (b) from Luebke et al. (2016). (top) PSD in (a) and (b) are from cirrus clouds formed in situ by layer lifting; (bottom) PSD in (a) are from cirrus clouds generated by deep convection but detrained and with no liquid water and in (b) are thick cirrus clouds originating from mixed-phase clouds but with no liquid water (liquid origin).

Citation: Meteorological Monographs 58, 1; 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-16-0010.1

McFarquhar et al. (2015) showed that parameters of derived gamma distributions can depend on the algorithm used to fit the data. They explained the parameters’ dependence on fit algorithms through the sensitivity to parameters on the tolerance permitted by the fit algorithms, meaning a volume of equally realizable solutions in the phase space of gamma fit parameters is needed to characterize PSDs. They derived a technique to construct these volumes, taking into account both the codependence of the fit parameters and the statistical uncertainty of the measured PSDs. Jackson et al. (2015) used this technique to examine how PSDs measured over Oklahoma during the Small Particles in Cirrus (SPARTICUS) experiment varied with temperature and cloud formation mechanism, also showing that multimodal distributions were sometimes needed to characterize PSDs (Fig. 2-13). Consistent with prior studies of Mitchell et al. (1996) and Lawson et al. (2010), they hypothesized that the smaller mode corresponded to particles growing by vapor diffusion or homogeneous nucleation, whereas particles in the larger mode grow by diffusion and aggregation. Differences between the SPARTICUS PSD and those measured by Heymsfield et al. (2013) could be associated with the different geographic locations or the weaker updrafts in the tropical cirrus measured by Heymsfield et al. (2013). This shows that further studies are needed to stratify measured PSD by temperature, location, formation mechanism, updraft strength, aerosol concentration, and other environmental conditions to better understand the controls of cirrus properties and to examine whether normalized PSD are less sensitive to such changes (e.g., Delanoë et al. 2005).

Fig. 2-13.