Cloud droplet number concentration (Nd) is an important parameter of liquid clouds and is crucial to understanding aerosol-cloud interactions. It couples boundary layer aerosol composition, size and concentration with cloud reflectivity. It affects cloud evolution, precipitation, radiative forcing, global climate and, through observation, can be used to partially monitor the first indirect effect. With its unique combination of multi-wavelength, multi-angle, total and polarized reflectance measurements, the Research Scanning Polarimeter (RSP) retrieves Nd with relatively few assumptions. The approach involves measuring cloud optical thickness, mean droplet extinction cross-section and cloud physical thickness. Polarimetric observations are capable of measuring the effective variance, or width, of the droplet size distribution. Estimating cloud geometrical thickness is also an important component of the polarimetric Nd retrieval, which is accomplished using polarimetric measurements in a water vapor absorption band to retrieve the amount of in-cloud water vapor and relating this to physical thickness. We highlight the unique abilities and quantify uncertainties of the polarimetric approach. We validate the approach using observational data from the North Atlantic and Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES). NAAMES targets specific phases in the seasonal phytoplankton lifecycle and ocean-atmosphere linkages. This study provides an excellent opportunity for the RSP to evaluate its approach of sensing Nd over a range of concentrations and cloud types with in situ measurements from a Cloud Droplet Probe (CDP). The RSP and CDP, along with an array of other instruments, are flown on the NASA C-130 aircraft, which flies in situ and remote sensing legs in sequence. Cloud base heights retrieved by the RSP compare well with those derived in situ (R=0.83) and by a ceilometer aboard the R.V. Atlantis (R=0.79). Comparing geometric mean values from 12 science flights throughout the NAAMES-1 and NAAMES-2 campaigns, we find a strong correlation between Nd retrieved by the RSP and CDP (R=0.96). A linear least squares fit has a slope of 0.92 and an intercept of 0.3 cm3. Uncertainty in this comparison can be attributed to cloud 3D effects, nonlinear liquid water profiles, multilayered clouds, measurement uncertainty, variation in spatial and temporal sampling, and assumptions used within the method. Radiometric uncertainties of the RSP measurements lead to biases on derived optical thickness and cloud physical thickness, but these biases largely cancel out when deriving Nd for most conditions and geometries. We find that a polarimetric approach to sensing Nd is viable and the RSP is capable of accurately retrieving Nd for a variety of cloud types and meteorological conditions.
Earth Resources and Remote Sensing
Remote Sensing of Environment (ISSN 0034-4257) (e-ISSN 1879-0704); 228; 227-240