Wang, CX; Platnick, S; Meyer, K; Zhang, ZB; Zhou, YP (2020). A machine-learning-based cloud detection and thermodynamic-phase classification algorithm using passive spectral observations. ATMOSPHERIC MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUES, 13(5), 2257-2277.

We trained two Random Forest (RF) machine learning models for cloud mask and cloud thermodynamic-phase detection using spectral observations from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on board Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (SNPP). Observations from Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) were carefully selected to provide reference labels. The two RF models were trained for all-day and daytime-only conditions using a 4-year collocated VIIRS and CALIOP dataset from 2013 to 2016. Due to the orbit difference, the collocated CALIOP and SNPP VIIRS training samples cover a broad-viewing zenith angle range, which is a great benefit to overall model performance. The allday model uses three VIIRS infrared (IR) bands (8.6, 11, and 12 mu m), and the daytime model uses five Near-IR (NIR) and Shortwave-IR (SWIR) bands (0.86, 1.24, 1.38, 1.64, and 2.25 mu m) together with the three IR bands to detect clear, liquid water, and ice cloud pixels. Up to seven surface types, i.e., ocean water, forest, cropland, grassland, snow and ice, barren desert, and shrubland, were considered separately to enhance performance for both models. Detection of cloudy pixels and thermodynamic phase with the two RF models was compared against collocated CALIOP products from 2017. It is shown that, when using a conservative screening process that excludes the most challenging cloudy pixels for passive remote sensing, the two RF models have high accuracy rates in comparison to the CALIOP reference for both cloud detection and thermodynamic phase. Other existing SNPP VIIRS and Aqua MODIS cloud mask and phase products are also evaluated, with results showing that the two RF models and the MODIS MYD06 optical property phase product are the top three algorithms with respect to lidar observations during the daytime. During the nighttime, the RF all-day model works best for both cloud detection and phase, particularly for pixels over snow and ice surfaces. The present RF models can be extended to other similar passive instruments if training samples can be collected from CALIOP or other lidars. However, the quality of reference labels and potential sampling issues that may impact model performance would need further attention.