Effects of ice particle size vertical inhomogeneity on the passive remote sensing of ice clouds Academic Article uri icon


  • The solar reflectance bi-spectral (SRBS) and infrared split-window (IRSpW) methods are two of the most popular techniques for passive ice cloud property retrievals from multispectral imagers. Ice clouds are usually assumed to be vertically homogeneous in global operational algorithms based on these methods, although significant vertical variations of ice particle size are typically observed in ice clouds. In this study we investigate uncertainties in retrieved optical thickness, effective particle size, and ice water path introduced by a homogeneous cloud assumption in both the SRBS and IRSpW methods, and focus on whether the assumption can lead to significant discrepancies between the two methods. The study simulates the upwelling spectral radiance associated with vertically structured clouds and passes the results through representative SRBS and IRSpW retrieval algorithms. Cloud optical thickness is limited to values for which IRSpW retrievals are possible (optical thickness less than about 7). When the ice cloud is optically thin and yet has a significant ice particle size vertical variation, it is found that both methods tend to underestimate the effective radius and ice water path. The reason for the underestimation is the nonlinear dependence of ice particle scattering properties (extinction and single scattering albedo) on the effective radius. Because the nonlinearity effect is stronger in the IRSpW than the SRBS method, the IRSpW-based IWP tends to be smaller than the SRBS counterpart. When the ice cloud is moderately optically thick, the IRSpW method is relatively insensitive to cloud vertical structure and effective radius retrieval is weighted toward smaller ice particle size, while the weighting function makes the SRBS method more sensitive to the ice particle size in the upper portion of the cloud. As a result, when ice particle size increases monotonically toward cloud base, the two methods are in qualitative agreement; in the event that ice particle size decreases toward cloud base, the effective radius and ice water path retrievals based on the SRBS method are substantially larger than those from the IRSpW. The main findings of this study suggest that the homogenous cloud assumption can affect the SRBS and IRSpW methods to different extents and, consequently, can lead to significantly different retrievals. Therefore caution should be taken when comparing and combining the ice cloud property retrievals from these two methods. Copyright 2010 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Zhang, Z., Platnick, S., Yang, P., Heidinger, A. K., & Comstock, J. M.

citation count

  • 55

complete list of authors

  • Zhang, Zhibo||Platnick, Steven||Yang, Ping||Heidinger, Andrew K||Comstock, Jennifer M

publication date

  • September 2010