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On the response of MODIS cloud coverage to global mean surface air temperature

Yue, Q., B. Kahn, E. J. Fetzer, S. Wong, R. Frey, and K. G. Meyer (2017), On the response of MODIS cloud coverage to global mean surface air temperature, J. Geophys. Res., 122, 966-979, doi:10.1002/2016JD025174.

The global surface temperature change (ΔTs) mediated cloud cover response is directly related to cloud-climate feedback. Using satellite remote sensing data to relate cloud and climate requires a well-calibrated, stable, and consistent long-term cloud data record. The Collection 5.1 (C5) Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) cloud observations have been widely used for this purpose. However, the MODIS data quality varies greatly with the surface type, spectral region, cloud type, and time periods of study, which calls for additional caution when applying such data to studies on cloud cover temporal trends and variability. Using 15 years of cloud observations made by Terra and Aqua MODIS, we analyze the ΔTs-mediated cloud cover response for different cloud types by linearly regressing the monthly anomaly of cloud cover (ΔC) with the monthly anomaly of global Ts. The Collection 6 (C6) Aqua data exhibit a similar cloud response to the long-term counterpart simulated by advanced climate models. A robust increase in altitude with increasing ΔTs is found for high clouds, while a robust decrease of ΔC is noticed for optically thick low clouds. The large differences between C5 and C6 results are from improvements in calibration and cloud retrieval algorithms. The large positive cloud cover responses with data after 2010 and the strong sensitivity to time period obtained from the Terra (C5 and C6) data are likely due to calibration drift that has not been corrected, suggesting that the previous estimate of the short-term cloud cover response from the these data should be revisited.

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