Articles | Volume 16, issue 12
Research article
22 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 22 Jun 2016

Climatological and radiative properties of midlatitude cirrus clouds derived by automatic evaluation of lidar measurements

Erika Kienast-Sjögren, Christian Rolf, Patric Seifert, Ulrich K. Krieger, Bei P. Luo, Martina Krämer, and Thomas Peter

Abstract. Cirrus, i.e., high, thin clouds that are fully glaciated, play an important role in the Earth's radiation budget as they interact with both long- and shortwave radiation and affect the water vapor budget of the upper troposphere and stratosphere. Here, we present a climatology of midlatitude cirrus clouds measured with the same type of ground-based lidar at three midlatitude research stations: at the Swiss high alpine Jungfraujoch station (3580 m a.s.l.), in Zürich (Switzerland, 510 m a.s.l.), and in Jülich (Germany, 100 m a.s.l.). The analysis is based on 13 000 h of measurements from 2010 to 2014. To automatically evaluate this extensive data set, we have developed the Fast LIdar Cirrus Algorithm (FLICA), which combines a pixel-based cloud-detection scheme with the classic lidar evaluation techniques. We find mean cirrus optical depths of 0.12 on Jungfraujoch and of 0.14 and 0.17 in Zürich and Jülich, respectively.

Above Jungfraujoch, subvisible cirrus clouds (τ < 0.03) have been observed during 6 % of the observation time, whereas above Zürich and Jülich fewer clouds of that type were observed. Cirrus have been observed up to altitudes of 14.4 km a.s.l. above Jungfraujoch, whereas they have only been observed to about 1 km lower at the other stations. These features highlight the advantage of the high-altitude station Jungfraujoch, which is often in the free troposphere above the polluted boundary layer, thus enabling lidar measurements of thinner and higher clouds. In addition, the measurements suggest a change in cloud morphology at Jungfraujoch above ∼ 13 km, possibly because high particle number densities form in the observed cirrus clouds, when many ice crystals nucleate in the high supersaturations following rapid uplifts in lee waves above mountainous terrain.

The retrieved optical properties are used as input for a radiative transfer model to estimate the net cloud radiative forcing, CRFNET, for the analyzed cirrus clouds. All cirrus detected here have a positive CRFNET. This confirms that these thin, high cirrus have a warming effect on the Earth's climate, whereas cooling clouds typically have cloud edges too low in altitude to satisfy the FLICA criterion of temperatures below −38 °C. We find CRFNET = 0.9 W m−2 for Jungfraujoch and 1.0 W m−2 (1.7 W m−2) for Zürich (Jülich). Further, we calculate that subvisible cirrus (τ < 0.03) contribute about 5 %, thin cirrus (0.03 < τ < 0.3) about 45 %, and opaque cirrus (0.3 < τ) about 50 % of the total cirrus radiative forcing.

Short summary
We present a climatology of mid-latitude cirrus cloud properties based on 13 000 hours of automatically analyzed lidar measurements at three different sites. Jungfraujoch, situated at 3580 m a.s.l., is found to be ideal to measure high and optically thin cirrus. We use our retrieved optical properties together with a radiation model and estimate the radiative forcing by mid-latitude cirrus. All cirrus clouds detected here have a positive net radiative effect.
Final-revised paper