ELIFAN, an algorithm for the estimation of cloud cover from sky imagers

Lothon, Marie; Barnéoud, Paul; Gabella, Omar; Lohou, Fabienne; Derrien, Solène; Rondi, Sylvain; Chiriaco, Marjolaine; Bastin, Sophie; Dupont, Jean-Charles; Haeffelin, Martial; Badosa, Jordi; Pascal, Nicolas; Montoux, Nadège

In the context of a network of sky cameras installed on atmospheric multi-instrumented sites, we present an algorithm named ELIFAN, which aims to estimate the cloud cover amount from full-sky visible daytime images with a common principle and procedure. ELIFAN was initially developed for a self-made full-sky image system presented in this article and adapted to a set of other systems in the network. It is based on red-to-blue ratio thresholding for the distinction of cloudy and cloud-free pixels of the image and on the use of a cloud-free sky library, without taking account of aerosol loading. Both an absolute (without the use of a cloud-free reference image) and a differential (based on a cloud-free reference image) red-to-blue ratio thresholding are used.

An evaluation of the algorithm based on a 1-year-long series of images shows that the proposed algorithm is very convincing for most of the images, with about 97 % of relevance in the process, outside the sunrise and sunset transitions. During those latter periods, however, ELIFAN has large difficulties in appropriately processing the image due to a large difference in color composition and potential confusion between cloud-free and cloudy sky at that time. This issue also impacts the library of cloud-free images. Beside this, the library also reveals some limitations during daytime, with the possible presence of very small and/or thin clouds. However, the latter have only a small impact on the cloud cover estimate.

The two thresholding methodologies, the absolute and the differential red-to-blue ratio thresholding processes, agree very well, with departure usually below 8 % except in sunrise–sunset periods and in some specific conditions. The use of the cloud-free image library gives generally better results than the absolute process. It particularly better detects thin cirrus clouds. But the absolute thresholding process turns out to be better sometimes, for example in some cases in which the sun is hidden by a cloud.

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Lothon, Marie / Barnéoud, Paul / Gabella, Omar / et al: ELIFAN, an algorithm for the estimation of cloud cover from sky imagers. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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