Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
Research article
27 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 27 Jan 2015

Distinguishing cirrus cloud presence in autonomous lidar measurements

J. R. Campbell, M. A. Vaughan, M. Oo, R. E. Holz, J. R. Lewis, and E. J. Welton

Abstract. 2012 Level-2 Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) satellite-based cloud data sets are investigated for thresholds that distinguish the presence of cirrus clouds in autonomous lidar measurements, based on temperatures, heights, optical depth and phase. A thermal threshold, proposed by Sassen and Campbell (2001) for cloud top temperature Ttop ≤ −37 °C, is evaluated versus CALIOP algorithms that identify ice-phase cloud layers using polarized backscatter measurements. Derived global mean cloud top heights (11.15 vs. 10.07 km above mean sea level; a.m.s.l.), base heights (8.76 km a.m.s.l. vs. 7.95 km a.m.s.l.), temperatures (−58.48 °C vs. −52.18 °C and −42.40 °C vs. −38.13 °C, respectively, for tops and bases) and optical depths (1.18 vs. 1.23) reflect the sensitivity to this constraint. Over 99 % of all Ttop ≤ −37 °C clouds are classified as ice by CALIOP Level-2 algorithms. Over 81 % of all ice clouds correspond with Ttop ≤ −37 °C. For instruments lacking polarized measurements, and thus practical estimates of phase, Ttop ≤ −37 °C provides sufficient justification for distinguishing cirrus, as opposed to the risks of glaciated liquid-water cloud contamination occurring in a given sample from clouds identified at relatively "warm" (Ttop > −37 °C) temperatures. Although accounting for uncertainties in temperatures collocated with lidar data (i.e., model reanalyses/sondes) may justifiably relax the threshold to include warmer cases, the ambiguity of "warm" ice clouds cannot be fully reconciled with available measurements, conspicuously including phase. Cloud top heights and optical depths are investigated, and global distributions and frequencies derived, as functions of CALIOP-retrieved phase. These data provide little additional information, compared with temperature alone, and may exacerbate classification uncertainties overall.

Short summary
Digital thresholds based on 2012 CALIOP satellite lidar measurements are investigated for distinguishing cirrus cloud presence, including cloud top temperatures and heights combined with layer depolarization and phase and optical depths. A cloud top temperature of -37 C is found to exhibit the most stable performance, owing to it being the point of homogeneous liquid-water freezing. Depolarization and phase help but are mostly ambiguous at warmer temperatures where mixed-phase clouds propagate.