The effect of low-level thin arctic clouds on shortwave irradiance: Evaluation of estimates from spaceborne passive imagery with aircraft observations

Hong Chen*, Sebastian Schmidt*, Michael D. King, Galina Wind, Anthony Bucholtz, Elizabeth A. Reid, Michal Segal-Rozenhaimer, William L. Smith, Patrick C. Taylor, Seiji Kato, Peter Pilewskie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Cloud optical properties such as optical thickness along with surface albedo are important inputs for deriving the shortwave radiative effects of clouds from spaceborne remote sensing. Owing to insufficient knowledge about the snow or ice surface in the Arctic, cloud detection and the retrieval products derived from passive remote sensing, such as from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), are difficult to obtain with adequate accuracy - especially for low-level thin clouds, which are ubiquitous in the Arctic. This study aims at evaluating the spectral and broadband irradiance calculated from MODIS-derived cloud properties in the Arctic using aircraft measurements collected during the Arctic Radiation-IceBridge Sea and Ice Experiment (ARISE), specifically using the upwelling and downwelling shortwave spectral and broadband irradiance measured by the Solar Spectral Flux Radiometer (SSFR) and the BroadBand Radiometer system (BBR). This starts with the derivation of surface albedo from SSFR and BBR, accounting for the heterogeneous surface in the marginal ice zone (MIZ) with aircraft camera imagery, followed by subsequent intercomparisons of irradiance measurements and radiative transfer calculations in the presence of thin clouds. It ends with an attribution of any biases we found to causes, based on the spectral dependence and the variations in the measured and calculated irradiance along the flight track. The spectral surface albedo derived from the airborne radiometers is consistent with prior ground-based and airborne measurements and adequately represents the surface variability for the study region and time period. Somewhat surprisingly, the primary error in MODIS-derived irradiance fields for this study stems from undetected clouds, rather than from the retrieved cloud properties. In our case study, about 27% of clouds remained undetected, which is attributable to clouds with an optical thickness of less than 0.5. We conclude that passive imagery has the potential to accurately predict shortwave irradiances in the region if the detection of thin clouds is improved. Of at least equal importance, however, is the need for an operational imagery-based surface albedo product for the polar regions that adequately captures its temporal, spatial, and spectral variability to estimate cloud radiative effects from spaceborne remote sensing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2673-2697
Number of pages25
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number4
StatePublished - 7 Apr 2021


FundersFunder number
National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationNNX12AC11G, NNX14AP72G
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


    Dive into the research topics of 'The effect of low-level thin arctic clouds on shortwave irradiance: Evaluation of estimates from spaceborne passive imagery with aircraft observations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this