Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
11 Jan 2011
Research article |  | 11 Jan 2011

Global analysis of cloud field coverage and radiative properties, using morphological methods and MODIS observations

R. Z. Bar-Or, O. Altaratz, and I. Koren

Abstract. The recently recognized continuous transition zone between detectable clouds and cloud-free atmosphere ("the twilight zone") is affected by undetectable clouds and humidified aerosol. In this study, we suggest to distinguish cloud fields (including the detectable clouds and the surrounding twilight zone) from cloud-free areas, which are not affected by clouds. For this classification, a robust and simple-to-implement cloud field masking algorithm which uses only the spatial distribution of clouds, is presented in detail. A global analysis, estimating Earth's cloud field coverage (50° S–50° N) for 28 July 2008, using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data, finds that while the declared cloud fraction is 51%, the global cloud field coverage reaches 88%. The results reveal the low likelihood for finding a cloud-free pixel and suggest that this likelihood may decrease as the pixel size becomes larger. A global latitudinal analysis of cloud fields finds that unlike oceans, which are more uniformly covered by cloud fields, land areas located under the subsidence zones of the Hadley cell (the desert belts), contain proper areas for investigating cloud-free atmosphere as there is 40–80% probability to detect clear sky over them. Usually these golden-pixels, with higher likelihood to be free of clouds, are over deserts. Independent global statistical analysis, using MODIS aerosol and cloud products, reveals a sharp exponential decay of the global mean aerosol optical depth (AOD) as a function of the distance from the nearest detectable cloud, both above ocean and land. Similar statistical analysis finds an exponential growth of mean aerosol fine-mode fraction (FMF) over oceans when the distance from the nearest cloud increases. A 30 km scale break clearly appears in several analyses here, suggesting this is a typical natural scale of cloud fields. This work shows different microphysical and optical properties of cloud fields, urging to separately investigate cloud fields and cloud-free atmosphere in future climate research.

Final-revised paper