Assessing 1D atmospheric solar radiative transfer models: Interpretation and handling of unresolved clouds

Howard W. Barker, G. L. Stephens, P. T. Partain, J. W. Bergman, B. Bonnel, K. Campana, E. E. Clothiaux, S. Clough, S. Cusack, J. Delamere, J. Edwards, K. F. Evans, Y. Fouquart, S. Freidenreich, V. Galin, Y. Hou, S. Kato, J. Li, E. Mlawer, J. J. MorcretteW. O'Hirok, P. Räisänen, V. Ramaswamy, B. Ritter, E. Rozanov, M. Schlesinger, K. Shibata, P. Sporyshev, Z. Sun, M. Wendisch, N. Wood, F. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


The primary purpose of this study is to assess the performance of 1D solar radiative transfer codes that are used currently both for research and in weather and climate models. Emphasis is on interpretation and handling of unresolved clouds. Answers are sought to the following questions: (i) How well do 1D solar codes interpret and handle columns of information pertaining to partly cloudy atmospheres? (ii) Regardless of the adequacy of their assumptions about unresolved clouds, do 1D solar codes perform as intended? One clear-sky and two plane-parallel, homogeneous (PPH) overcast cloud cases serve to elucidate 1D model differences due to varying treatments of gaseous transmittances, cloud optical properties, and basic radiative transfer. The remaining four cases involve 3D distributions of cloud water and water vapor as simulated by cloud-resolving models. Results for 25 1D codes, which included two line-by-line (LBL) models (clear and overcast only) and four 3D Monte Carlo (MC) photon transport algorithms, were submitted by 22 groups. Benchmark, domain-averaged irradiance profiles were computed by the MC codes. For the clear and overcast cases, all MC estimates of top-of-atmosphere albedo, atmospheric absorptance, and surface absorptance agree with one of the LBL codes to within ±2%. Most 1D codes underestimate atmospheric absorptance by typically 15-25 W m 2 at overhead sun for the standard tropical atmosphere regardless of clouds. Depending on assumptions about unresolved clouds, the 1D codes were partitioned into four genres: (i) horizontal variability, (ii) exact overlap of PPH clouds, (iii) maximum/random overlap of PPH clouds, and (iv) random overlap of PPH clouds. A single MC code was used to establish conditional benchmarks applicable to each genre, and all MC codes were used to establish the full 3D benchmarks. There is a tendency for 1D codes to cluster near their respective conditional benchmarks, though intragenre variances typically exceed those for the clear and overcast cases. The majority of 1D codes fall into the extreme category of maximum/random overlap of PPH clouds and thus generally disagree with full 3D benchmark values. Given the fairly limited scope of these tests and the inability of any one code to perform extremely well for all cases begs the question that a paradigm shift is due for modeling 1D solar fluxes for cloudy atmospheres.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2676-2699
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 15 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing 1D atmospheric solar radiative transfer models: Interpretation and handling of unresolved clouds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this