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Hutchison, KD; Mahoney, RL; Iisager, BD (2013). Discriminating sea ice from low-level water clouds in split-window, mid-wavelength IR imagery. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF REMOTE SENSING, 34(20), 7131-7144.

A technique is demonstrated to enhance the contrast between sea ice and low-level water clouds. The approach uses the brightness temperature difference (BTD) feature from data collected in the split-window, mid-wavelength infrared (IR) region (i.e. two bands at 3.7 m and 4.0 m). These spectral data are available with Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) moderate-resolution bands M12 and M13, respectively. Under daytime conditions, the data collected in these bands contain energy that originates from both the sun and the Earth-atmosphere system. Due to the small wavelength difference between these, the terrestrial energy component in the bands is typically quite similar as are the surface reflectances for sea ice and ocean surfaces. Thus, the enhanced contrast between sea ice and water clouds, evident in a M12-M13 BTD image, results from differences in the solar energy, which decreases rapidly across this atmospheric window. Observed BTD values for water clouds can exceed 30K, while those for snow-ice fields are typically much smaller (e.g. 0-5K). Thus, water clouds appear bright in the image while sea ice, oceans, and most land surfaces are very dark. The enhanced contrast in the split-window, mid-wave IR BTD image makes it valuable for both image analysis and use in cloud algorithms. In addition, these images support the creation of manually generated cloud masks that have been shown useful for quantitatively evaluating the performance of automated cloud analysis algorithms and cloud forecast models. In this article, the value of 3.7 m minus 4.0 m BTD imagery for distinguishing between sea ice and low-level water clouds is shown using VIIRS data collected over the Beaufort Sea on 31 May 2012. Manually generated cloud masks, derived in part from these data, are then used to quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of various cloud tests, including those used in the VIIRS cloud mask algorithm and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) cloud mask algorithm. The results strongly suggest that split-window, mid-wavelength IR imagery provides valuable information to help differentiate between clouds and sea ice. It is concluded that collecting data in these mid-wavelength IR bands should be considered part of any future satellite sensor designed for environmental monitoring, especially over the polar regions.



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