Phenomenological description of tropical clouds using cloudsat cloud classification

Ali Behrangi, Terry Kubar, Bjorn Lambrigtsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Two years of tropical oceanic cloud observations are analyzed using the operational CloudSat cloud classification product and Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) lidar. Relationships are examined between cloud types, sea surface temperature (SST), and location during the CloudSat early morning and afternoon overpasses. Based on CloudSat and combined lidar-radar products, the maximum and minimum cloud fractions occur at SSTs near 303 and 299 K, respectively, corresponding to deep convective/detrained cloud populations and the transition from shallow to deep convection. For SSTs below approximately 301 K, low clouds (stratiform and stratocumulus) are dominant (cloud fraction between 0.15 and 0.37) whereas high clouds are dominant for SSTs greater than about 301 K (cloud fraction between 0.18 and 0.28). Consistent with previous studies, most tropical low clouds are associated with lower SSTs, with a strong inverse linear relationship between low cloud frequency and SST. For all cloud types except nimbostratus, stratus, and stratocumulus, a sharp increase in frequency of occurrence is observed for SSTs between 299 and 300.5 K, deduced as the onset of deeper convection. Peak fractions of high, deep convective, altostratus, and altocumulus clouds occur at SSTs close to 303 K, while cumulus clouds, which have lower tops, show a smooth cloud fractional peak about 28° cooler. Deep convective and other high cloud types decrease sharply above SSTs of 303 K, in accordance with previous work suggesting a narrow window of tropical deep convection. Finally, significant cloud frequency differences exist between CloudSat early morning and afternoon overpasses, suggesting a diurnal cycle of some cloud types, particularly stratocumulus, high, and deep convective clouds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3235-3249
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Classification
  • Cloud cover
  • Clouds
  • Convective clouds
  • Radars/Radar observations
  • Remote sensing
  • Satellite observations
  • Tropics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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