Coddington, O. M., Pilewskie, P., Redemann, J., Platnick, S., Russell, P. B., Schmidt, K. S., … & Vukicevic, T. (2010). Examining the impact of overlying aerosols on the retrieval of cloud optical properties from passive remote sensing. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 115(D10).
Haywood et al. (2004) show that an aerosol layer above a cloud can cause a bias in the retrieved cloud optical thickness and effective radius. Monitoring for this potential bias is difficult because space-based passive remote sensing cannot unambiguously detect or characterize aerosol above cloud. We show that cloud retrievals from aircraft measurements above cloud and below an overlying aerosol layer are a means to test this bias. The data were collected during the Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment (INTEX-A) study based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States, above extensive, marine stratus cloud banks affected by industrial outflow. Solar Spectral Flux Radiometer (SSFR) irradiance measurements taken along a lower level flight leg above cloud and below aerosol were unaffected by the overlying aerosol. Along upper level flight legs, the irradiance reflected from cloud top was transmitted through an aerosol layer. We compare SSFR cloud retrievals from below-aerosol legs to satellite retrievals from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) in order to detect an aerosol-induced bias. In regions of small variation in cloud properties, we find that SSFR and MODIS-retrieved cloud optical thickness compares within the uncertainty range for each instrument while SSFR effective radius tend to be smaller than MODIS values (by 1–2 μm) and at the low end of MODIS uncertainty estimates. In regions of large variation in cloud properties, differences in SSFR and MODIS-retrieved cloud optical thickness and effective radius can reach values of 10 and 10 μm, respectively. We include aerosols in forward modeling to test the sensitivity of SSFR cloud retrievals to overlying aerosol layers. We find an overlying absorbing aerosol layer biases SSFR cloud retrievals to smaller effective radii and optical thickness while non-absorbing aerosols had no impact.