A multi-spectral non-local (MSN) method is developed for advanced retrieval of boundary layer cloud properties from remote sensing data, as an alternative to the independent pixel approximation (IPA) method. The non-local method uses data at both the target pixel and neighboring pixels to retrieve cloud properties such as pixel-averaged cloud optical thickness and effective droplet radius. Radiance data to be observed from space were simulated by a three-dimensional (3D) radiation model and a stochastic boundary layer cloud model with two-dimensional (horizontal and vertical) variability in cloud liquid water and effective radius. An adiabatic assumption is used for each cloud column to model the geometrical thickness and vertical profiles of cloud liquid water content and effective droplet radius, neglecting drizzle and cloud brokenness for simplicity. The dependence of radiative smoothing and roughening on horizontal scale, optical thickness and single scattering albedo are investigated. Then, retrieval methods using 250-m horizontal resolution data onboard new generation satellites are discussed. The regression model for the MSN method was trained based on datasets from numerical simulations. The training was performed with respect to various domain averages of optical thickness and effective radius, because smoothing and roughening effects are strongly dependent on the two variables. Retrieval accuracy is discussed here with datasets independent of those used in the training, towards assessing the generality of the technique. It is demonstrated that retrieval accuracy of cloud optical thickness, which is often retrieved from single-spectral visible-wavelength data, is improved the most using neighboring pixel data and secondly using multi-spectral data, and ideally with both. When the IPA retrieval method is applied to optical thickness and effective radius, the root-mean-square relative errors can be 15-90%, depending on solar and view directions. In contrast, the MSN method has errors of 4-10%, which is smaller than IPA by a factor of 2-10. It is also suggested that the accuracy of the MSN method is insensitive to some assumptions in the inhomogeneous cloud input data used to train the regression model.
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