The sensitivity of radiative fluxes to parameterized cloud microphysics

Iacobellis, SF, McFarquhar GM, Mitchell DL, Somerville RCJ.  2003.  The sensitivity of radiative fluxes to parameterized cloud microphysics. Journal of Climate. 16:2979-2996.

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cirrus clouds, climate models, clouds, crystal terminal velocities, effective radius, gcm parameterization, ice, optical-properties, single-column models, solar-radiation, water clouds


The sensitivity of modeled radiative fluxes to the specification of cloud microphysical parameterizations of effective radius and fallout are investigated using a single-column model and measurements from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program. The single-column model was run with data for the 3-month period of June - August 2000 at the ARM Southern Great Plains site forced with operational numerical weather prediction data. Several different packages of cloud microphysical parameterizations were used in the single-column model. The temporal evolution of modeled cloud amount as well as surface radiative fluxes from a control run compare well with ARM measurements. Mean ice particle fall speeds varied significantly with respect to the assumed ice particle habit. As particle fall speeds increased, the overall cloud fraction, cloud height, and grid-averaged ice water path decreased. The outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) differs by up to 4 W m(-2) over the range of fall speeds examined, while shortwave fluxes varied little as most of the changes in cloud properties occurred at times of minimal solar radiation. Model results indicate that surface and top-of-atmosphere radiative fluxes are sensitive to the scheme used to specify the ice particle effective radius. On the seasonal timescale this sensitivity is on the order of 4 W m(-2) and on the daily timescale can be as large as 32 W m(-2). A conclusive statement as to which microphysical scheme is performing best is not achievable until cloud microphysical measurements include an accurate representation of small ice particles. The modeled variance of the ice particle effective radius at any given height in the model is considerably smaller than that suggested by measurements. Model results indicate that this underestimation of the ice particle effective radius variance can alter the seasonal mean top-of-atmosphere radiative fluxes by up to 5 W m(-2) and the mean longwave cooling rate by up to 0.2degrees K day(-1) near the location of maximum cloud amount. These seemingly modest flux sensitivities may have important implications for numerical climate simulations. These numerical experiments and observational comparisons have provided valuable physical insight into ice cloud - radiation physics and also into the mechanisms through which contemporary cloud microphysical parameterizations interact with climate model radiation schemes. In particular, the results demonstrate the importance of the smaller ice particles and emphasize the critical role played by not only the average particle size and shape but also the width of the ice particle effective radius distribution about its mean. In fact, the results show that this variability in particle size can sometimes play a greater role in cloud - radiation interactions than the more obvious variations in cloud amount due to changes in ice particle fall speed.