loading page

A Necessary Step Toward Cloud Tomography from Space using MISR and MODIS: Understanding the Physics of Opaque 3D Cloud Image Formation
  • +1
  • Anthony Davis,
  • Linda Forster,
  • David Diner,
  • Bernhard Mayer
Anthony Davis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory / California Institute of Technology 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile
Linda Forster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory / California Institute of Technology 4800 Oak Grove Drive
Author Profile
David Diner
Jet Propulsion Laboratory / California Institute of Technology 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
Author Profile
Bernhard Mayer
Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Meteorological Institute Theresienstr. 37, 80333 Munich, Germany
Author Profile


Cloud tomography (CT) is a promising approach in passive remote sensing using space-based imaging sensors like MISR and MODIS. In contrast with current cloud property retrievals in the VNIR-SWIR, which are grounded in 1D radiative transfer (RT), CT embraces the 3D nature of convective clouds. Forster et al. (2020) defined the “veiled core” (VC) of such clouds as the optically deep region where detailed 3D structure of the cloud has little impact on the multi-angle/multi-spectral images as long as average VC extinction and any significant cloud-scale gradient are preserved. Quantitatively, the difference between radiance fields escaping clouds remains commensurate with sensor noise when said clouds differ only in the small-scale distribution of extinction inside their VC. An important corollary for the large and ill-posed CT inverse problem is that the only unknowns of interest for the whole VC are its mean and any cloud-scale vertical trend in the extinction coefficient. Another ramification for CT algorithms under development is that the forward 3D RT model driving the inversion may be vastly simplified in the VC to gain efficiency. We explore that possibility here, assuming radiative diffusion as the simplified RT for the VC. We also describe the relevant RT physics that unfold in the VC and in the outer shell (OS) where detailed spatial structure does matter for image formation. This includes control by the VC of the cloud-scale contrast between brightnesses of illuminated and shaded boundaries, as well as the gradual blurring of spatial structure via directional diffusion with increasing optical distance into the OS. “Transport” space is the merger of 3D (or 1D) physical space and 2D direction space. Cloud image formation involves radiative diffusion processes (i.e., random walks) in both of these spaces, depending on what transport regime prevails. Fortunately for the future of computed CT and of passive cloud remote sensing in general, there is a clear spatial separation: asymptotic limit of radiative diffusion in the VC, standard RT in the OS. A hybrid forward model for CT will make use of this fact. Reference: Forster, L., Davis, A. B., Diner, D. J., & Mayer, B. (2021). Toward Cloud Tomography from Space Using MISR and MODIS: Locating the “Veiled Core” in Opaque Convective Clouds, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 78(1), 155-166.