Abstract. To provide a better representation of natural ice clouds, a novel ice cloud model is developed by assuming an ice cloud to consist of an ensemble of hexagonal columns and 20-element aggregates with specific habit fractions at each particle size bin. The microphysical and optical properties of this two-habit model (THM) are compared with both laboratory and in situ measurements, and its performance in downstream satellite remote sensing applications is assessed. The ice water contents and median mass diameters calculated based on the THM closely agree with in situ measurements made during 11 field campaigns. In this study, the scattering, absorption, and polarization properties of ice crystals are calculated with a combination of the invariant imbedding T matrix, pseudo-spectral time domain, and improved geometric-optics methods over an entire practical range of particle sizes. The phase functions, calculated based on the THM, show close agreement with counterparts from laboratory and in situ measurements and from satellite-based retrievals. When the THM is applied to the retrievals of cloud microphysical and optical properties from MODIS (the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) observations, excellent spectral consistency is achieved; specifically, the retrieved cloud optical thicknesses based on the visible/near infrared bands and the thermal infrared bands agree quite well. Furthermore, a comparison between the polarized reflectivities observed by the PARASOL satellite and from theoretical simulations illustrates that the THM can be used to represent ice cloud polarization properties.