Articles | Volume 12, issue 22
Research article
20 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 20 Nov 2012

A fast SEVIRI simulator for quantifying retrieval uncertainties in the CM SAF cloud physical property algorithm

B. J. Jonkheid, R. A. Roebeling, and E. van Meijgaard

Abstract. The uncertainties in the cloud physical properties derived from satellite observations make it difficult to interpret model evaluation studies. In this paper, the uncertainties in the cloud water path (CWP) retrievals derived with the cloud physical properties retrieval algorithm (CPP) of the climate monitoring satellite application facility (CM SAF) are investigated. To this end, a numerical simulator of MSG-SEVIRI observations has been developed that calculates the reflectances at 0.64 and 1.63 μm for a wide range of cloud parameter values, satellite viewing geometries and surface albedos using a plane-parallel radiative transfer model. The reflectances thus obtained are used as input to CPP, and the retrieved values of CWP are compared to the original input of the simulator. Cloud parameters considered in this paper refer to e.g. sub-pixel broken clouds and the simultaneous occurrence of ice and liquid water clouds within one pixel. These configurations are not represented in the CPP algorithm and as such the associated retrieval uncertainties are potentially substantial.

It is shown that the CWP retrievals are very sensitive to the assumptions made in the CPP code. The CWP retrieval errors are generally small for unbroken single-layer clouds with COT > 10, with retrieval errors of ~3% for liquid water clouds to ~10% for ice clouds. In a multi-layer cloud, when both liquid water and ice clouds are present in a pixel, the CWP retrieval errors increase dramatically; depending on the cloud, this can lead to uncertainties of 40–80%. CWP retrievals also become more uncertain when the cloud does not cover the entire pixel, leading to errors of ~50% for cloud fractions of 0.75 and even larger errors for smaller cloud fractions. Thus, the satellite retrieval of cloud physical properties of broken clouds as well as multi-layer clouds is complicated by inherent difficulties, and the proper interpretation of such retrievals requires extra care.

Final-revised paper