Tropical cloud-top height distributions revealed by the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat)/Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) Academic Article uri icon


  • We analyze cloud-top height data obtained at tropical latitudes between 29 September and 17 November, 2003, from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS), carried onboard the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat). About 66% of the tropical observations show one or more cloud layers. Of those observations that do show a cloud, about half show two or more cloud layers. Maxima in the cloud-top height distribution occur in the upper troposphere, between 12 and 17 km, and in the lower troposphere, below about 4 km. A less prominent maximum occurs in the midtroposphere, between 6 and 8 km. The occurrence of cloud layers tends to be consistent with the well-known diurnal cycles of continental and oceanic convection, and we find that cloud layers tend to occur more frequently over land than ocean, except in the lower troposphere, where the opposite is true. A particular emphasis of this paper is the convection that penetrates into the so-called tropical tropopause layer (TTL). We find more frequent occurrence of thick clouds in the TTL and above the tropopause than other studies, with 3.0% and 19% of the thick and thin cloud observations, respectively, showing a cloud top in the TTL and 0.34% and 3.1% showing a cloud top above the average level of the tropopause. These values are higher than those found in other data sets and suggest that an upward revision of TTL cloud frequency might be necessary. TTL clouds are observed more frequently in the evening than in the morning and more frequently over land than over ocean. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Dessler, A. E., Palm, S. P., & Spinhirne, J. D.

citation count

  • 70

complete list of authors

  • Dessler, AE||Palm, SP||Spinhirne, JD

publication date

  • June 2006