Articles | Volume 6, issue 1
Research article
02 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 02 Jan 2013

Detection and characterization of heavy drizzle cells within subtropical marine stratocumulus using AMSR-E 89-GHz passive microwave measurements

M. A. Miller and S. E. Yuter

Abstract. This empirical study demonstrates the feasibility of using 89-GHz Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer–Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) passive microwave brightness temperature data to detect heavily drizzling cells within subtropical marine stratocumulus. For the purpose of this paper, we define heavily drizzling cells as areas ≥ 6 km × 4 km with C-band Z > 0 dBZ; equivalent to > 0.084 mm h−1. A binary heavy drizzle product is described that can be used to determine areal and feature statistics of drizzle cells within the major marine stratocumulus regions. Current satellite liquid water path (LWP) and cloud radar products capable of detecting drizzle are either lacking in resolution (AMSR-E LWP), diurnal coverage (MODIS LWP), or spatial coverage (CloudSat). The AMSR-E 89-GHz data set at 6 km × 4 km spatial resolution is sufficient for resolving individual heavily drizzling cells. Radiant emission at 89 GHz by liquid-water cloud and precipitation particles from drizzling cells in marine stratocumulus regions yields local maxima in brightness temperature against an otherwise cloud-free background brightness temperature. The background brightness temperature is primarily constrained by column-integrated water vapor for moderate sea surface temperatures. Clouds containing ice are screened out. Once heavily drizzling pixels are identified, connected pixels are grouped into discrete drizzle cell features. The identified drizzle cells are used in turn to determine several spatial statistics for each satellite scene, including drizzle cell number and size distribution. The identification of heavily drizzling cells within marine stratocumulus regions with satellite data facilitates analysis of seasonal and regional drizzle cell occurrence and the interrelation between drizzle and changes in cloud fraction.