Impact of cirrus crystal shape on solar spectral irradiance: A case study for subtropical cirrus Academic Article uri icon


  • Profiles of in situ measurements of ice crystal size distribution of subtropical cirrus were used to calculate solar spectral irradiances above and below the clouds. Spheres and nonspherical ice crystal habits (columns, hollows, plates, bullets, and aggregates) were assumed in the calculations. The simulation results were compared to irradiance measurements from the NASA Solar Spectral Flux Radiometer. The microphysical and radiation data were collected by three aircraft during CRYSTAL-FACE. Two cirrus cases (optical thickness of about 1 and 7) from two mission dates (26 and 23 July 2002) were investigated in detail. The measured downwelling and upwelling irradiance spectra above the cirrus could mostly be reproduced by the radiation model to within ±5-10% for most ice crystal habits. Below the cirrus the simulations disagreed with the measured irradiances due to surface albedo variability along the flight track, and nonoptimal colocation between the microphysical and irradiance measurements. The impact of shape characteristics of the crystals was important for the reflected irradiances above the optically thin cirrus, especially for small solar zenith angles, because in this case single-scattering dominated the solar radiation field. For the cirrus of moderate optical thickness the enhanced multiple scattering tended to diminish particular shape features caused by nonspherical single-scattering. Within the ice absorption bands the shape-related differences in the absorption characteristics of the individual nonspherical ice crystals were amplified if multiple scattering prevailed. Furthermore, it was found that below the cloud the shape sensitivity of the downwelling irradiance spectra is larger compared to the nonsphericity effects on reflected irradiances above the cirrus. Finally, it was shown that the calculated cirrus solar radiative forcing could vary by as much as 26% depending on the ice crystal habit. Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.

author list (cited authors)

  • Wendisch, M., Pilewskie, P., Pommier, J., Howard, S., Yang, P., Heymsfield, A. J., ... Mayer, B.

citation count

  • 45

publication date

  • February 2005