Cloud climatologies from the infrared sounders AIRS and IASI: strengths and applications
Abstract. Global cloud climatologies have been built from 13 years of Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) and 8 years of Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) observations, using an updated Clouds from Infrared Sounders (CIRS) retrieval. The CIRS software can handle any infrared (IR) sounder data. Compared to the original retrieval, it uses improved radiative transfer modelling, accounts for atmospheric spectral transmissivity changes associated with CO2 concentration and incorporates the latest ancillary data (atmospheric profiles, surface temperature and emissivities). The global cloud amount is estimated to be 0.67–0.70, for clouds with IR optical depth larger than about 0.1. The spread of 0.03 is associated with ancillary data. Cloud amount is partitioned into about 40 % high-level clouds, 40 % low-level clouds and 20 % mid-level clouds. The latter two categories are only detected in the absence of upper clouds. The A-Train active instruments, lidar and radar of the CALIPSO and CloudSat missions, provide a unique opportunity to evaluate the retrieved AIRS cloud properties. CIRS cloud height can be approximated either by the mean layer height (for optically thin clouds) or by the mean between cloud top and the height at which the cloud reaches opacity. This is valid for high-level as well as for low-level clouds identified by CIRS. IR sounders are particularly advantageous to retrieve upper-tropospheric cloud properties, with a reliable cirrus identification, day and night. These clouds are most abundant in the tropics, where high opaque clouds make up 7.5 %, thick cirrus 27.5 % and thin cirrus about 21.5 % of all clouds. The 5 % annual mean excess in high-level cloud amount in the Northern compared to the Southern Hemisphere has a pronounced seasonal cycle with a maximum of 25 % in boreal summer, in accordance with the moving of the ITCZ peak latitude, with annual mean of 4° N, to a maximum of 12° N. This suggests that this excess is mainly determined by the position of the ITCZ. Considering interannual variability, tropical cirrus are more frequent relative to all clouds when the global (or tropical) mean surface gets warmer. Changes in relative amount of tropical high opaque and thin cirrus with respect to mean surface temperature show different geographical patterns, suggesting that their response to climate change might differ.