Investigation of the adiabatic assumption for estimating cloud micro- and macrophysical properties from satellite and ground observations
Abstract. Cloud properties from both ground-based as well as from geostationary passive satellite observations have been used previously for diagnosing aerosol–cloud interactions. In this investigation, a 2-year data set together with four selected case studies are analyzed with the aim of evaluating the consistency and limitations of current ground-based and satellite-retrieved cloud property data sets. The typically applied adiabatic cloud profile is modified using a sub-adiabatic factor to account for entrainment within the cloud. Based on the adiabatic factor obtained from the combination of ground-based cloud radar, ceilometer and microwave radiometer, we demonstrate that neither the assumption of a completely adiabatic cloud nor the assumption of a constant sub-adiabatic factor is fulfilled (mean adiabatic factor 0.63 ± 0.22). As cloud adiabaticity is required to estimate the cloud droplet number concentration but is not available from passive satellite observations, an independent method to estimate the adiabatic factor, and thus the influence of mixing, would be highly desirable for global-scale analyses. Considering the radiative effect of a cloud described by the sub-adiabatic model, we focus on cloud optical depth and its sensitivities. Ground-based estimates are here compared vs. cloud optical depth retrieved from the Meteosat SEVIRI satellite instrument resulting in a bias of −4 and a root mean square difference of 16. While a synergistic approach based on the combination of ceilometer, cloud radar and microwave radiometer enables an estimate of the cloud droplet concentration, it is highly sensitive to radar calibration and to assumptions about the moments of the droplet size distribution. Similarly, satellite-based estimates of cloud droplet concentration are uncertain. We conclude that neither the ground-based nor satellite-based cloud retrievals applied here allow a robust estimate of cloud droplet concentration, which complicates its use for the study of aerosol–cloud interactions.