The representation in global climate models of the infrared radiative properties of cirrus clouds is assessed by comparing their radiative forcing calculated using airborne in-situ-measured size distributions and retrievals from combined lidar and Doppler-radar data. The latter are fitted to a bimodal function, allowing the inclusion of the size distribution's shape, normally omitted in the characterization of cirrus.
The impact of the particle size distribution's shape on the atmosphere's radiation fields is evaluated using a two-stream radiative code. The comparisons show that the effect of the shape of the size distributions used to calculate the radiative forcing of a cirrus layer composed of hexagonal cylinders is not negligible, evidencing the ambiguity linked to the commonly used two-parameter (effective radius and ice water content) characterization of cirrus, and showing that the inclusion of a simple measure of the relative concentration of small particles improves its radiative parameterization. Copyright © 2007 Royal Meteorological Society