Impact of clouds on atmospheric heating based on the R04 CloudSat fluxes and heating rates data set



[1] Among the largest uncertainties in quantifying the radiative impacts of clouds are those that arise from the inherent difficulty in precisely specifying the vertical distribution of cloud optical properties using passive satellite measurements. Motivated by the need to address this problem, CloudSat was launched in April 2006 carrying into orbit the first millimeter wavelength cloud radar to be flown in space. Retrieved profiles of liquid and ice cloud microphysical properties from this Cloud Profiling Radar form the basis of the CloudSat's fluxes and heating rates algorithm, 2B-FLXHR, a standard product that provides high vertical resolution profiles of radiative fluxes and atmospheric heating rates on the global scale. This paper describes the physical basis of the 2B-FLXHR algorithm and documents the first year of 2B-FLXHR data in the context of assessing the radiative impact of clouds on global and regional scales. The analysis confirms that cloud contributions to atmospheric radiative heating are small on the global scale because of a cancelation of the much larger regional heating from high clouds in the tropics and cooling from low clouds at higher latitudes. Preliminary efforts to assess the accuracy of the 2B-FLXHR product using coincident CERES data demonstrate that outgoing longwave fluxes are better represented than those in the shortwave but both exhibit good agreement with CERES on scales longer than 5 days and larger than 5°. Colocated CALIPSO observations of clouds that are undetected by CloudSat further indicate that while thin cirrus can introduce modest uncertainty in the products, low clouds that are obscured by ground clutter represent a far more important source of error in the current 2B-FLXHR product that must be addressed in subsequent versions of the algorithm.