Cloud thermodynamic phase detection with polarimetrically sensitive passive sky...

Knobelspiesse, K., B. van Diedenhoven, A. Marshak, S. E. Dunagan, B. Holben, and I. Slutsker (2015), Cloud thermodynamic phase detection with polarimetrically sensitive passive sky radiometers, Atmos. Meas. Tech., 8, 1537-1554, doi:10.5194/amt-8-1537-2015.

The primary goal of this project has been to in- vestigate if ground-based visible and near-infrared passive radiometers that have polarization sensitivity can determine the thermodynamic phase of overlying clouds, i.e., if they are comprised of liquid droplets or ice particles. While this knowledge is important by itself for our understanding of the global climate, it can also help improve cloud property retrieval algorithms that use total (unpolarized) radiance to determine cloud optical depth (COD). This is a potentially unexploited capability of some instruments in the NASA Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET), which, if practical, could expand the products of that global instrument network at minimal additional cost.

We performed simulations that found, for zenith observa- tions, that cloud thermodynamic phase is often expressed in the sign of the Q component of the Stokes polarization vec- tor. We chose our reference frame as the plane containing so- lar and observation vectors, so the sign of Q indicates the po- larization direction, parallel (positive) or perpendicular (par- allel) to that plane. Since the fraction of linearly polarized to total light is inversely proportional to COD, optically thin clouds are most likely to create a signal greater than instru- ment noise. Besides COD and instrument accuracy, other im- portant factors for the determination of cloud thermodynamic phase are the solar and observation geometry (scattering an- gles between 40 and 60◦ are best), and the properties of ice particles (pristine particles may have halos or other features that make them difficult to distinguish from water dropletsat specific scattering angles, while extreme ice crystal aspect ratios polarize more than compact particles).

We tested the conclusions of our simulations using data from polarimetrically sensitive versions of the Cimel 318 sun photometer/radiometer that compose a portion of AERONET. Most algorithms that exploit Cimel polarized observations use the degree of linear polarization (DoLP), not the individual Stokes vector elements (such as Q). Abil- ity to determine cloud thermodynamic phase depends on Q measurement accuracy, which has not been rigorously as- sessed for Cimel instruments. For this reason, we did not know if cloud phase could be determined from Cimel obser- vations successfully. Indeed, comparisons to ceilometer ob- servations with a single polarized spectral channel version of the Cimel at a site in the Netherlands showed little correla- tion. Comparisons to lidar observations with a more recently developed, multi-wavelength polarized Cimel in Maryland, USA, show more promise. The lack of well-characterized observations has prompted us to begin the development of a small test instrument called the Sky Polarization Radio- metric Instrument for Test and Evaluation (SPRITE). This instrument is specifically devoted to the accurate observation of Q, and the testing of calibration and uncertainty assess- ment techniques, with the ultimate goal of understanding the practical feasibility of these measurements.

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