Evaluation of Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) neural network cloud detection against current operational cloud masks

White, Charles H.; Heidinger, Andrew K.; Ackerman, Steven A.

Cloud properties are critical to our understanding of weather and climate variability, but their estimation from satellite imagers is a nontrivial task. In this work, we aim to improve cloud detection, which is the most fundamental cloud property. We use a neural network applied to Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) measurements to determine whether an imager pixel is cloudy or cloud-free. The neural network is trained and evaluated using 4 years (2016–2019) of coincident measurements between VIIRS and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP). We successfully address the lack of sun glint in the collocation dataset with a simple semi-supervised learning approach. The results of the neural network are then compared with two operational cloud masks: the Continuity MODIS-VIIRS Cloud Mask (MVCM) and the NOAA Enterprise Cloud Mask (ECM).

We find that the neural network outperforms both operational cloud masks in most conditions examined with a few exceptions. The largest improvements we observe occur during the night over snow- or ice-covered surfaces in the high latitudes. In our analysis, we show that this improvement is not solely due to differences in optical-depth-based definitions of a cloud between each mask. We also analyze the differences in true-positive rate between day–night and land–water scenes as a function of optical depth. Such differences are a contributor to spatial artifacts in cloud masking, and we find that the neural network is the most consistent in cloud detection with respect to optical depth across these conditions. A regional analysis over Greenland illustrates the impact of such differences and shows that they can result in mean cloud fractions with very different spatial and temporal characteristics.

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White, Charles H. / Heidinger, Andrew K. / Ackerman, Steven A.: Evaluation of Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) neural network cloud detection against current operational cloud masks. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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