Articles | Volume 12, issue 23
Research article
03 Dec 2012
Research article |  | 03 Dec 2012

A better understanding of cloud optical thickness derived from the passive sensors MODIS/AQUA and POLDER/PARASOL in the A-Train constellation

S. Zeng, C. Cornet, F. Parol, J. Riedi, and F. Thieuleux

Abstract. Cloud optical thickness (COT) is one of the most important parameter for the characterization of cloud in the Earth radiative budget. Its retrieval strongly depends on instrument characteristics and on many cloud and environment factors. Using coincident observations from POLDER/PARASOL and MODIS/AQUA in the A-Train constellation, geographical distributions and seasonal changes of COT are presented, in good agreement with general cloud climatology characteristics. Retrieval uncertainties mainly associated to sensor spatial resolution, cloud inhomogeneity and microphysical assumptions are discussed.

Comparisons of COT derived from POLDER and MODIS illustrate that as the primary factor, the sensor spatial resolution impacts COT retrievals and statistics through both cloud detection and sub-pixel cloud inhomogeneity sensitivity.

The uncertainties associated to cloud microphysics assumptions, namely cloud phase, particle size and shape, also impact significantly COT retrievals. For clouds with unambiguous cloud phase, strong correlations exist between the two COTs, with MODIS values comparable to POLDER ones for liquid clouds and MODIS values larger than POLDER ones for ice clouds. The large differences observed in ice phase cases are due to the use of different microphysical models in the two retrieval schemes. In cases when the two sensors disagree on cloud phase decision, COT retrieved assuming liquid phase is systematically larger.

The angular biases related to specific observation geometries are also quantified and discussed in particular based on POLDER observations. Those exhibit a clear increase of COT with decreasing sun elevation and a decrease of COT in forward scattering directions due to sub-pixel inhomogeneities and shadowing effects, this especially for lower sun. It also demonstrates unrealistic COT variations in the cloudbow and backward directions due to inappropriate cloud optical properties representation and an important increase of COT in the sun-glint directions in case of broken cloud.

Final-revised paper