A physical retrieval of cloud liquid water over the global oceans using special sensor microwave/imager (SSM/I) observations


  • Thomas J. Greenwald,

  • Graeme L. Stephens,

  • Thomas H. Vonder Haar,

  • Darren L. Jackson


A method of remotely sensing integrated cloud liquid water over the oceans using spaceborne passive measurements from the special sensor microwave/imager (SSM/I) is described. The technique is comprised of a simple physical model that uses the 19.35- and 37-GHz channels of the SSM/I. The most comprehensive validation to date of cloud liquid water estimated from satellites is presented. This is accomplished through a comparison to independent ground-based microwave radiometer measurements of liquid water on San Nicolas Island, over the North Sea, and on Kwajalein and Saipan Islands in the western Pacific. In areas of marine stratocumulus clouds off the coast of California a further comparison is made to liquid water inferred from advanced very high resolution radiometer (AVHRR) visible reflectance measurements. The results are also compared qualitatively with near-coincident satellite imagery and with other existing microwave methods in selected regions. These comparisons indicate that the liquid water amounts derived from the simple scheme are consistent with the ground-based measurements for nonprecipitating cloud systems in the subtropics and middle to high latitudes. The comparison in the tropics, however, was less conclusive. Nevertheless, the retrieval method appears to have general applicability over most areas of the global oceans. An observational measure of the minimum uncertainty in the retrievals is determined in a limited number of known cloud-free areas, where the liquid water amounts are found to have a low variability of 0.016 kg m−2. A simple sensitivity and error analysis suggests that the liquid water estimates have a theoretical relative error typically ranging from about 25% to near 40% depending on the atmospheric/surface conditions and on the amount of liquid water present in the cloud. For the global oceans as a whole the average cloud liquid water is determined to be about 0.08 kg m−2. The major conclusion of this paper is that reasonably accurate amounts of cloud liquid water can be retrieved from SSM/I observations for nonprecipitating cloud systems, particularly in areas of persistent stratocumulus clouds, with less accurate retrievals in tropical regions.