Aircraft millimeter-wave passive sensing of cloud liquid water and water vapor during VOCALS-REx

P. Zuidema, D. Leon, A. Pazmany, M. Cadeddu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Routine liquid water path measurements and water vapor path are valuable for process studies of the cloudy marine boundary layer and for the assessment of large-scale models. The VOCALS Regional Experiment respected this goal by including a small, inexpensive, upward-pointing millimeter-wavelength passive radiometer on the fourteen research flights of the NCAR C-130 plane, the G-band (183 GHz) Vapor Radiometer (GVR). The radiometer permitted above-cloud retrievals of the free-tropospheric water vapor path (WVP). Retrieved free-tropospheric (above-cloud) water vapor paths possessed a strong longitudinal gradient, with off-shore values of one to two mm and near-coastal values reaching ten mm. The VOCALS-REx free troposphere was drier than that of previous years. Cloud liquid water paths (LWPs) were retrieved from the sub-cloud and cloudbase aircraft legs through a combination of the GVR, remotely-sensed cloud boundary information, and in-situ thermodynamic data. The absolute (between-leg) and relative (within-leg) accuracy of the LWP retrievals at 1 Hz (∼100 m) resolution was estimated at 20 g m-2 and 3 g m-2 respectively for well-mixed conditions, and 25 g m-2 absolute uncertainty for decoupled conditions where the input WVP specification was more uncertain. Retrieved liquid water paths matched adiabatic values derived from coincident cloud thickness measurements exceedingly well. A significant contribution of the GVR dataset was the extended information on the thin clouds, with 62 % (28 %) of the retrieved LWPs <100 (40) g m -2. Coastal LWPs values were lower than those offshore. For the four dedicated 20 S flights, the mean (median) coastal LWP was 67 (61) g m -2, increasing to 166 (120) g m-2 1500 km offshore. The overall LWP cloud fraction from thirteen research flights was 63 %, higher than that of adiabatic LWPs at 40 %, but lower than the lidar-determined cloud cover of 85 %, further testifying to the frequent occurrence of thin clouds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-369
Number of pages15
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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