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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 1 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 519-536, 2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 15 Jan 2015

Research article | 15 Jan 2015

A global survey of cloud overlap based on CALIPSO and CloudSat measurements

J. Li1, J. Huang1, K. Stamnes2, T. Wang1, Q. Lv1, and H. Jin1 J. Li et al.
  • 1Key Laboratory for Semi-Arid Climate Change of the Ministry of Education, College of Atmospheric Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, China
  • 2Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, USA

Abstract. Using 2B-CLDCLASS-LIDAR (radar–lidar) cloud classification and 2B-FLXHR-LIDAR radiation products from CloudSat over 4 years, this study evaluates the co-occurrence frequencies of different cloud types, analyzes their along-track horizontal scales and cloud radiative effects (CREs), and utilizes the vertical distributions of cloud types to evaluate cloud-overlap assumptions.

The statistical results show that high clouds, altostratus (As), altocumulus (Ac) and cumulus (Cu) tend to coexist with other cloud types. However, stratus (St) (or stratocumulus, Sc), nimbostratus (Ns) and convective clouds are much more likely to exhibit individual features than other cloud types. On average, altostratus-over-stratus/stratocumulus cloud systems have a maximum horizontal scale of 17.4 km, with a standard deviation of 23.5 km. Altocumulus-over-cumulus cloud types have a minimum scale of 2.8 km, with a standard deviation of 3.1 km. By considering the weight of each multilayered cloud type, we find that the global mean instantaneous net CREs of multilayered cloud systems during the daytime are approximately −41.3 and −50.2 W m−2, which account for 40.1 and 42.3% of the global mean total net CREs at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) and at the surface, respectively. The radiative contributions of high-over-altocumulus and high-over-stratus/stratocumulus (or cumulus) in the all multilayered cloud systems are dominant due to their frequency.

Considering the overlap of cloud types, the cloud fraction based on the random overlap assumption is underestimated over vast oceans, except in the west-central Pacific Ocean warm pool. Obvious overestimations mainly occur over tropical and subtropical land masses. In view of a lower degree of overlap than that predicted by the random overlap assumption to occur over the vast ocean, particularly poleward of 40° S, the study therefore suggests that a linear combination of minimum and random overlap assumptions may further improve the predictions of actual cloud fractions for multilayered cloud types (e.g., As + St/Sc and Ac + St/Sc) over the Southern Ocean. The establishment of a statistical relationship between multilayered cloud types and the environmental conditions (e.g., atmospheric vertical motion, convective stability and wind shear) would be useful for parameterization design of cloud overlap in numerical models.

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