Airborne lidar observations of clouds in the Antarctic troposphere



In January 1986, SRI International made exploratory airborne observations of Antarctic tropospheric clouds with a downward-viewing lidar onboard an LC-130 supply aircraft. Frequency of observations depended upon the schedule of supply missions. Two types of clouds were observed: relatively opaque, midlevel cloud layers 3.0 to 4.0 km below flight level (about 4.0 to 4.5 km MSL); and higher altitude optically transparent cirrus clouds exhibiting long trails or curtains of ice crystals that extended from flight level downward to the top of the midlevel clouds and, frequently, to ground level. The midlevel clouds were often multilayered and, at times, showed wave or cellular structure associated with cloud streets. The ice crystal trails from the cirrus clouds showed evidence of the presence of strong vertical wind shear, and were observed to “seed” the midlevel cloud layers, producing large breaks in the overcast. These exploratory observations attest to the utility of lidar for atmospheric research studies in the Antarctic region.