Microphysical examination of excess cloud absorption in the tropical atmosphere

Lubin, D, Chen JP, Pilewskie P, Ramanathan V, Valero FPJ.  1996.  Microphysical examination of excess cloud absorption in the tropical atmosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 101:16961-16972.

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budget, ice, models, optical-constants, radiation, region, scattering, ultraviolet, water


To investigate the excess shortwave absorption by clouds, a numerical cloud generation model has been coupled to a plane-parallel discrete ordinates radiative transfer model. The former was used in a time-dependent fashion to generate a cumulonimbus turret and three types of cirrus anvil (precipitating, extended, detached) representing three stages of cloud evolution outward from the turret. The cloud particle size distributions, as a function of altitude, were used as input to the radiative transfer model using indices of refraction for pure water and pure ice and equivalent sphere Mie theory. The radiative transfer model was used to calculate the ratio of cloud forcing at the surface to cloud forcing at the top of the atmosphere, both for the broadband shortwave and as a function of wavelength. Recent empirical studies have placed this cloud forcing ratio at around 1.5, and our coupled model results approach this value for small solar zenith angles, when the cloud contains large (>100 mu m) ice particles that absorb significantly in the near infrared (primarily the 1.6-mu m window). However, the empirical studies are based on diurnal averages, and our plane-parallel radiative transfer model yields an area and diurnally averaged cloud forcing ratio of only 1.18 for a tropical cumulonimbus and cirrus anvil system, primarily because of the rapid decrease of the ratio with solar zenith angle. The ratio decreases because of the increase in albedo with solar zenith angle, which is a characteristic feature of plane-parallel clouds. Adding dust or aerosol to the cloud layers, to make them absorb at visible wavelengths, makes the instantaneous cloud forcing ratio larger for an overhead Sun but also makes the solar zenith angle dependence in the cloud forcing ratio more pronounced. These two effects cancel, eliminating interstitial aerosol as a possible explanation for the excess cloud absorption in plane-parallel radiative transfer modeling. The strong dependence of the surface/top of the atmosphere cloud forcing ratio on solar zenith angle may be a fundamental defect with the plane-parallel approach to solar radiative transfer in a cloudy atmosphere.