Articles | Volume 7, issue 9
Research article
09 Sep 2014
Research article |  | 09 Sep 2014

Remote sensing of cloud top pressure/height from SEVIRI: analysis of ten current retrieval algorithms

U. Hamann, A. Walther, B. Baum, R. Bennartz, L. Bugliaro, M. Derrien, P. N. Francis, A. Heidinger, S. Joro, A. Kniffka, H. Le Gléau, M. Lockhoff, H.-J. Lutz, J. F. Meirink, P. Minnis, R. Palikonda, R. Roebeling, A. Thoss, S. Platnick, P. Watts, and G. Wind

Abstract. The role of clouds remains the largest uncertainty in climate projections. They influence solar and thermal radiative transfer and the earth's water cycle. Therefore, there is an urgent need for accurate cloud observations to validate climate models and to monitor climate change. Passive satellite imagers measuring radiation at visible to thermal infrared (IR) wavelengths provide a wealth of information on cloud properties. Among others, the cloud top height (CTH) – a crucial parameter to estimate the thermal cloud radiative forcing – can be retrieved. In this paper we investigate the skill of ten current retrieval algorithms to estimate the CTH using observations from the Spinning Enhanced Visible and InfraRed Imager (SEVIRI) onboard Meteosat Second Generation (MSG). In the first part we compare ten SEVIRI cloud top pressure (CTP) data sets with each other. The SEVIRI algorithms catch the latitudinal variation of the CTP in a similar way. The agreement is better in the extratropics than in the tropics. In the tropics multi-layer clouds and thin cirrus layers complicate the CTP retrieval, whereas a good agreement among the algorithms is found for trade wind cumulus, marine stratocumulus and the optically thick cores of the deep convective system.

In the second part of the paper the SEVIRI retrievals are compared to CTH observations from the Cloud–Aerosol LIdar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) and Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR) instruments. It is important to note that the different measurement techniques cause differences in the retrieved CTH data. SEVIRI measures a radiatively effective CTH, while the CTH of the active instruments is derived from the return time of the emitted radar or lidar signal. Therefore, some systematic differences are expected. On average the CTHs detected by the SEVIRI algorithms are 1.0 to 2.5 km lower than CALIOP observations, and the correlation coefficients between the SEVIRI and the CALIOP data sets range between 0.77 and 0.90. The average CTHs derived by the SEVIRI algorithms are closer to the CPR measurements than to CALIOP measurements. The biases between SEVIRI and CPR retrievals range from −0.8 km to 0.6 km. The correlation coefficients of CPR and SEVIRI observations vary between 0.82 and 0.89. To discuss the origin of the CTH deviation, we investigate three cloud categories: optically thin and thick single layer as well as multi-layer clouds. For optically thick clouds the correlation coefficients between the SEVIRI and the reference data sets are usually above 0.95. For optically thin single layer clouds the correlation coefficients are still above 0.92. For this cloud category the SEVIRI algorithms yield CTHs that are lower than CALIOP and similar to CPR observations. Most challenging are the multi-layer clouds, where the correlation coefficients are for most algorithms between 0.6 and 0.8. Finally, we evaluate the performance of the SEVIRI retrievals for boundary layer clouds. While the CTH retrieval for this cloud type is relatively accurate, there are still considerable differences between the algorithms. These are related to the uncertainties and limited vertical resolution of the assumed temperature profiles in combination with the presence of temperature inversions, which lead to ambiguities in the CTH retrieval. Alternative approaches for the CTH retrieval of low clouds are discussed.