Ice cloud optical thickness and extinction estimates from radar measurements

Sergey Y. Matrosov, Matthew D. Shupe, Andrew J. Heymsfield, Paquita Zuidema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


A remote sensing method is proposed to derive vertical profiles of the visible extinction coefficients in ice clouds from measurements of the radar reflectivity and Doppler velocity taken by a vertically pointing 35-GHz cloud radar. The extinction coefficient and its vertical integral, optical thickness τ, are among the fundamental cloud optical parameters that, to a large extent, determine the radiative impact of clouds. The results obtained with this method could be used as input for different climate and radiation models and for comparisons with parameterizations that relate cloud microphysical parameters and optical properties. An important advantage of the proposed method is its potential applicability to multicloud situations and mixed-phase conditions. In the latter case, it might be able to provide the information on the ice component of mixed-phase clouds if the radar moments are dominated by this component. The uncertainties of radar-based retrievals of cloud visible optical thickness are estimated by comparing retrieval results with optical thicknesses obtained independently from radiometric measurements during the yearlong Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) field experiment. The radiometric measurements provide a robust way to estimate τ but are applicable only to optically thin ice clouds without intervening liquid layers. The comparisons of cloud optical thicknesses retrieved from radar and from radiometer measurements indicate an uncertainty of about 77% and a bias of about - 14% in the radar estimates of τ relative to radiometric retrievals. One possible explanation of the negative bias is an inherently low sensitivity of radar measurements to smaller cloud particles that still contribute noticeably to the cloud extinction. This estimate of the uncertainty is in line with simple theoretical considerations, and the associated retrieval accuracy should be considered good for a nonoptical instrument, such as radar. This paper also presents relations between radar-derived characteristic cloud particle sizes and effective sizes used in models. An average relation among τ, cloud ice water path, and the layer mean value of cloud particle characteristic size is also given. This relation is found to be in good agreement with in situ measurements. Despite a high uncertainty of radar estimates of extinction, this method is useful for many clouds where optical measurements are not available because of cloud multilayering or opaqueness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1584-1597
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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