Jensen, MP, Vogelmann, AM, Collins, WD, Zhang, GJ, Luke, EP (2008). Investigation of regional and seasonal variations in marine boundary layer cloud properties from MODIS observations. JOURNAL OF CLIMATE, 21(19), 4955-4973.
To aid in understanding the role that marine boundary layer (MBL) clouds play in climate and assist in improving their representations in general circulation models (GCMs), their long-term microphysical and macroscale characteristics are quantified using observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroracdiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Terra satellite. Six years of MODIS pixel-level Cloud products are used from oceanic study regions off the west coasts of California, Peru, the Canary Islands, Angola, and Australia where these cloud types are common. Characterizations are given for their organization (macroscale structure), the associated microphysical properties, and the seasonal dependencies of their variations for scales consistent with the size of a GCM grid box (300 km X 300 km). MBL mesoscale structure is quantified using effective cloud diameter C-D, which is introduced here as a simplified measure of bulk cloud organization; it is straightforward to compute and provides descriptive information beyond that offered by cloud fraction. The interrelationships of these characteristics are explored while considering the influences of the MBL state, such as the occurrence of drizzle. Several commonalities emerge for the five study regions. MBL clouds contain the best natural examples of plane-parallel clouds, but overcast clouds occur in only about 25% of the scenes, which emphasizes the importance of representing broken MBL cloud fields in climate models (that are subgrid scale). During the peak months of cloud occurrence, mesoscale organization (larger C-D) increases such that the fractions of scenes characterized as overcast and clumped increase at the expense of the scattered scenes. Cloud liquid water path and visible optical depth usually trend strongly with C-D, with the largest values occurring for scenes that are drizzling. However, considerable interregional differences exist in these trends, suggesting that different regression functionalities exist for each region. For peak versus off-peak months, the fraction of drizzling scenes (as a function of C-D) are similar for California and Angola, which suggests that a single probability distribution function might be used for their drizzle occurrence in climate models. The patterns are strikingly opposite for Peru and Australia; thus, the contrasts among regions may offer a test bed for model simulations of MBL drizzle occurrence.