Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
01 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 01 Feb 2018

Characterization of AVHRR global cloud detection sensitivity based on CALIPSO-CALIOP cloud optical thickness information: demonstration of results based on the CM SAF CLARA-A2 climate data record

Karl-Göran Karlsson and Nina Håkansson

Abstract. The sensitivity in detecting thin clouds of the cloud screening method being used in the CM SAF cloud, albedo and surface radiation data set from AVHRR data (CLARA-A2) cloud climate data record (CDR) has been evaluated using cloud information from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) onboard the CALIPSO satellite. The sensitivity, including its global variation, has been studied based on collocations of Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) and CALIOP measurements over a 10-year period (2006–2015). The cloud detection sensitivity has been defined as the minimum cloud optical thickness for which 50 % of clouds could be detected, with the global average sensitivity estimated to be 0.225. After using this value to reduce the CALIOP cloud mask (i.e. clouds with optical thickness below this threshold were interpreted as cloud-free cases), cloudiness results were found to be basically unbiased over most of the globe except over the polar regions where a considerable underestimation of cloudiness could be seen during the polar winter. The overall probability of detecting clouds in the polar winter could be as low as 50 % over the highest and coldest parts of Greenland and Antarctica, showing that a large fraction of optically thick clouds also remains undetected here. The study included an in-depth analysis of the probability of detecting a cloud as a function of the vertically integrated cloud optical thickness as well as of the cloud's geographical position. Best results were achieved over oceanic surfaces at mid- to high latitudes where at least 50 % of all clouds with an optical thickness down to a value of 0.075 were detected. Corresponding cloud detection sensitivities over land surfaces outside of the polar regions were generally larger than 0.2 with maximum values of approximately 0.5 over the Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula. For polar land surfaces the values were close to 1 or higher with maximum values of 4.5 for the parts with the highest altitudes over Greenland and Antarctica. It is suggested to quantify the detection performance of other CDRs in terms of a sensitivity threshold of cloud optical thickness, which can be estimated using active lidar observations. Validation results are proposed to be used in Cloud Feedback Model Intercomparison Project (CFMIP) Observation Simulation Package (COSP) simulators for cloud detection characterization of various cloud CDRs from passive imagery.

Short summary
Data from the high-sensitivity CALIOP cloud lidar onboard the CALIPSO satellite have been used to evaluate cloud amounts estimated from satellite imagery and, specifically, from the climate data record CLARA-A2. The main purpose has been to study the limit of how thin clouds that can be detected efficiently (i.e., detected at the 50 % level) in CLARA-A2 data and how this limit varies globally. The study revealed very large geographical differences in the cloud detection efficiency.