Articles | Volume 9, issue 9
Research article
20 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 20 Sep 2016

Ground-based imaging remote sensing of ice clouds: uncertainties caused by sensor, method and atmosphere

Tobias Zinner, Petra Hausmann, Florian Ewald, Luca Bugliaro, Claudia Emde, and Bernhard Mayer

Abstract. In this study a method is introduced for the retrieval of optical thickness and effective particle size of ice clouds over a wide range of optical thickness from ground-based transmitted radiance measurements. Low optical thickness of cirrus clouds and their complex microphysics present a challenge for cloud remote sensing. In transmittance, the relationship between optical depth and radiance is ambiguous. To resolve this ambiguity the retrieval utilizes the spectral slope of radiance between 485 and 560 nm in addition to the commonly employed combination of a visible and a short-wave infrared wavelength.

An extensive test of retrieval sensitivity was conducted using synthetic test spectra in which all parameters introducing uncertainty into the retrieval were varied systematically: ice crystal habit and aerosol properties, instrument noise, calibration uncertainty and the interpolation in the lookup table required by the retrieval process. The most important source of errors identified are uncertainties due to habit assumption: Averaged over all test spectra, systematic biases in the effective radius retrieval of several micrometre can arise. The statistical uncertainties of any individual retrieval can easily exceed 10 µm. Optical thickness biases are mostly below 1, while statistical uncertainties are in the range of 1 to 2.5.

For demonstration and comparison to satellite data the retrieval is applied to observations by the Munich hyperspectral imager specMACS (spectrometer of the Munich Aerosol and Cloud Scanner) at the Schneefernerhaus observatory (2650 m a.s.l.) during the ACRIDICON-Zugspitze campaign in September and October 2012. Results are compared to MODIS and SEVIRI satellite-based cirrus retrievals (ACRIDICON – Aerosol, Cloud, Precipitation, and Radiation Interactions and Dynamics of Convective Cloud Systems; MODIS – Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer; SEVIRI – Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager). Considering the identified uncertainties for our ground-based approach and for the satellite retrievals, the comparison shows good agreement within the range of natural variability of the cloud situation in the direct surrounding.

Short summary
A new retrieval of optical thickness and effective particle size of ice clouds over a wide range of optical thickness from transmittance measurements is presented. A visible range spectral slope is used to resolve the transmittance optical thickness ambiguity. Retrieval sensitivity to ice crystal habit, aerosol, albedo, sensor accuracy and lookup table interpolation is presented as well as an application of the method and comparison to satellite products for 2 days.