Investigating the liquid water path over the tropical Atlantic with synergistic airborne measurements
Liquid water path (LWP) is an important quantity to characterize clouds. Passive microwave satellite sensors provide the most direct estimate on a global scale but suffer from high uncertainties due to large footprints and the superposition of cloud and precipitation signals. Here, we use high spatial resolution airborne microwave radiometer (MWR) measurements together with cloud radar and lidar observations to better understand the LWP of warm clouds over the tropical North Atlantic. The nadir measurements were taken by the German High Altitude and LOng range research aircraft (HALO) in December 2013 (dry season) and August 2016 (wet season) during two Next-generation Advanced Remote sensing for VALidation (NARVAL) campaigns. Microwave retrievals of integrated water vapor (IWV), LWP, and rainwater path (RWP) are developed using artificial neural network techniques. A retrieval database is created using unique cloud-resolving simulations with 1.25 km grid spacing. The IWV and LWP retrievals share the same eight MWR frequency channels in the range from 22 to 31 GHz and at 90 GHz as their sole input. The RWP retrieval combines active and passive microwave observations and is able to detect drizzle and light precipitation. The comparison of retrieved IWV with coincident dropsondes and water vapor lidar measurements shows root-mean-square deviations below 1.4 kg m−2 over the range from 20 to 60 kg m−2. This comparison raises the confidence in LWP retrievals which can only be assessed theoretically. The theoretical analysis shows that the LWP error is constant with 20 g m−2 for LWP below 100 g m−2. While the absolute LWP error increases with increasing LWP, the relative one decreases from 20 % at 100 g m−2 to 10 % at 500 g m−2. The identification of clear-sky scenes by ancillary measurements, here backscatter lidar, is crucial for thin clouds (LWP < 12 g m−2) as the microwave retrieved LWP uncertainty is higher than 100 %. The analysis of both campaigns reveals that clouds were more frequent (47 % vs. 30 % of the time) in the dry than in the wet season. Their average LWP (63 vs. 40 g m−2) and RWP (6.7 vs. 2.7 g m−2) were higher as well. Microwave scattering of ice, however, was observed less frequently in the dry season (0.5 % vs. 1.6 % of the time). We hypothesize that a higher degree of cloud organization on larger scales in the wet season reduces the overall cloud cover and observed LWP. As to be expected, the observed IWV clearly shows that the dry season is on average less humid than the wet season (28 vs. 41 kg m−2). The results reveal that the observed frequency distributions of IWV are substantially affected by the choice of the flight pattern. This should be kept in mind when using the airborne observations to carefully mediate between long-term ground-based and spaceborne measurements to draw statistically sound conclusions.