High-resolution daytime cloud observations for Northwestern Mexico from GOES-7 satellite observations

J. Garatuza-Payan, R. T. Pinker, W. James Shuttleworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The first stage in a program of research to develop a regional model capable of describing the hydrology of semiarid areas of northwest Mexico and southwest United States, using remotely sensed data, is described in this paper. Finescale information on cloud cover is required to provide the radiation forcing for making simple, near-real-time estimates of daytime evaporation in hydrologic models, and frequent satellite observations have the potential to document cloud variability at high spatial and temporal resolutions. In this study, the operational framework for obtaining information on cloud cover was developed and applied, using hourly sampled, 1-km resolution GOES-7 data as received in real time in Obregon, Mexico. These satellite data were collected and analyzed from 1 July 1993 to 31 July 1994 for an approximately 106 km2 rectangular area in northwest Mexico. An efficient method was devised to provide clear-sky radiance images for the study area, at 4 km x 4 km resolution, and updated at monthly intervals, by applying thresholds indexed to the locally appropriate clear-sky radiance, thereby allowing for spatial and temporal changes in surface conditions. Manual image inspection and comparison with ground-based measurements of cloud cover and surface solar radiation provided reassurance that the high-resolution cloud-screening algorithm gave satisfactory results. This algorithm was applied to investigate the effects of temporal sampling frequency on estimates of daytime-average cloud cover and to document aspects of the cloud characteristics for the study area. The high-resolution algorithm proved to be efficient and reliable and bodes well for its future use in providing high-resolution estimates of surface solar radiation for use in a hydrologic model. Monthly clear-sky composite images were consistently generated, showing little evidence of contamination by persistent clouds, and tracked the seasonal evolution in surface radiance. Comparison with ground-based measurements gave confidence in the credibility of the satellite estimates and revealed weaknesses in the Campbell-Stokes solarimeter. The seasonal evolution of spatial patterns of cloud and its diurnal cycle were investigated. The average cloudiness for the study area is 0.25, with a substantial annual variation from 0.19 in April to 0.40 in December. Persistent cloudy conditions throughout the year were detected over the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California. The derived high-resolution cloud estimates, when compared with similar estimates from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP D1), were about half those obtained with the low-resolution data, indicating that, in this complex study area where land and water boundaries are in close proximity, low-resolution satellite observations of clouds may not be able to depict the true cloud cover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-55
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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