Inferring Cirrus Size Distributions through Satellite Remote Sensing and Microphysical Databases

Type: Journal Article

Venue: Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences


Mitchell, David L., Robert P. d’Entremont, R. Paul Lawson, 2010: Inferring Cirrus Size Distributions through Satellite Remote Sensing and Microphysical Databases. J. Atmos. Sci., 67, 1106–1125.
doi: 10.1175/2009JAS3150.1

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Since cirrus clouds have a substantial influence on the global energy balance that depends on their microphysical properties, climate models should strive to realistically characterize the cirrus ice particle size distribution (PSD), at least in a climatological sense. To date, the airborne in situ measurements of the cirrus PSD have contained large uncertainties due to errors in measuring small ice crystals (D ≲ 60 μm). This paper presents a method to remotely estimate the concentration of the small ice crystals relative to the larger ones using the 11- and 12-μm channels aboard several satellites. By understanding the underlying physics producing the emissivity difference between these channels, this emissivity difference can be used to infer the relative concentration of small ice crystals. This is facilitated by enlisting temperature-dependent characterizations of the PSD (i.e., PSD schemes) based on in situ measurements.

An average cirrus emissivity relationship between 12 and 11 μm is developed here using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite instrument and is used to “retrieve” the PSD based on six different PSD schemes. The PSDs from the measurement-based PSD schemes are compared with corresponding retrieved PSDs to evaluate differences in small ice crystal concentrations. The retrieved PSDs generally had lower concentrations of small ice particles, with total number concentration independent of temperature. In addition, the temperature dependence of the PSD effective diameter De and fall speed Vf for these retrieved PSD schemes exhibited less variability relative to the unmodified PSD schemes. The reduced variability in the retrieved De and Vf was attributed to the lower concentrations of small ice crystals in the retrieved PSD.