Sensitivity of Cloud Liquid Water Content Estimates to the...

Devasthale, A., and M. A. Thomas (2012), Sensitivity of Cloud Liquid Water Content Estimates to the Temperature-Dependent Thermodynamic Phase: A Global Study Using CloudSat Data, J. Climate, 25, 7297-7307, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00521.1.

The main purpose of this study is to underline the sensitivity of cloud liquid water content (LWC) estimates purely to 1) the shape of computationally simplified temperature-dependent thermodynamic phase and 2) the range of subzero temperatures covered to partition total cloud condensate into liquid and ice fractions. Linear, quadratic, or sigmoid-shaped functions for subfreezing temperatures (down to 2208 or 2408C) are often used in climate models and reanalysis datasets for partitioning total condensate. The global vertical profiles of clouds obtained from CloudSat for the 4-yr period June 2006–May 2010 are used for sensitivity analysis and the quantitative estimates of sensitivities based on these realistic cloud profiles are provided. It is found that three cloud regimes in particular—convective clouds in the tropics, low-level clouds in the northern high latitudes, and middle-level clouds over the midlatitudes and Southern Ocean—are most sensitive to assumptions on thermodynamic phase. In these clouds, the LWC estimates based purely on quadratic or sigmoid-shaped functions with a temperature range down to 2208C can differ by up to 20%–40% over the tropics (in seasonal means), 10%–30% over the midlatitudes, and up to 50% over high latitudes compared to a linear assumption. When the temperature range is extended down to 2408C, LWC estimates in the sigmoid case can be much higher than the above values over high-latitude regions compared to the commonly used case with quadratic dependency down to 2208C. This sensitivity study emphasizes the need to critically investigate radiative impacts of cloud thermodynamic phase assumptions in simplified climate models and reanalysis datasets.

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