Retrieval of radiative and microphysical properties of clouds from multispectral infrared measurements

Hironobu Iwabuchi, Masanori Saito, Yuka Tokoro, Nurfiena Sagita Putri, Miho Sekiguchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Satellite remote sensing of the macroscopic, microphysical, and optical properties of clouds are useful for studying spatial and temporal variations of clouds at various scales and constraining cloud physical processes in climate and weather prediction models. Instead of using separate independent algorithms for different cloud properties, a unified, optimal estimation-based cloud retrieval algorithm is developed and applied to moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) observations using ten thermal infrared bands. The model considers sensor configurations, background surface and atmospheric profile, and microphysical and optical models of ice and liquid cloud particles and radiative transfer in a plane-parallel, multilayered atmosphere. Measurement and model errors are thoroughly quantified from direct comparisons of clear-sky observations over the ocean with model calculations. Performance tests by retrieval simulations show that ice cloud properties are retrieved with high accuracy when cloud optical thickness (COT) is between 0.1 and 10. Cloud-top pressure is inferred with uncertainty lower than 10 % when COT is larger than 0.3. Applying the method to a tropical cloud system and comparing the results with the MODIS Collection 6 cloud product shows good agreement for ice cloud optical thickness when COT is less than about 5. Cloud-top height agrees well with estimates obtained by the CO2 slicing method used in the MODIS product. The present algorithm can detect optically thin parts at the edges of high clouds well in comparison with the MODIS product, in which these parts are recognized as low clouds by the infrared window method. The cloud thermodynamic phase in the present algorithm is constrained by cloud-top temperature, which tends not to produce results with an ice cloud that is too warm and liquid cloud that is too cold.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalProgress in Earth and Planetary Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec 1


  • Cloud optical thickness
  • Cloud-top height
  • Effective particle radius
  • Ice cloud
  • Optimal estimation method
  • Satellite remote sensing


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