Pincus, R., C. Hannay, and K. F. Evans, 2005: The accuracy of determining three-dimensional radiative transfer effects in cumulus clouds using ground-based profiling instruments. J. Atmos. Sci., 62, 2284-2293.


Three-dimensional radiative transfer calculations are accurate, though computationally expensive, if the spatial distribution of cloud properties is known. The difference between these calculations and those using the much less expensive independent column approximation is called the 3D radiative transfer effect. Assessing the magnitude of this effect in the real atmosphere requires that many realistic cloud fields be obtained, and profiling instruments such as ground-based radars may provide the best long-term observations of cloud structure. Cloud morphology can be inferred from a time series of vertical profiles obtained from profilers by converting time to horizontal distance with an advection velocity, although this restricts variability to two dimensions. This paper assesses the accuracy of estimates of the 3D effect in shallow cumulus clouds when cloud structure is inferred in this way. Large-eddy simulations provide full three-dimensional, time-evolving cloud fields, which are sampled every 10 s to provide a "radar's eye view" of the same cloud fields. The 3D effect for shortwave surface fluxes is computed for both sets of fields using a broadband Monte Carlo radiative transfer model, and intermediate calculations are made to identify reasons why estimates of the 3D effect differ in these fields. The magnitude of the 3D effect is systematically underestimated in the two-dimensional cloud fields because there are fewer cloud edges that cause the effect, while the random error in hourly estimates is driven by the limited sample observed by the profiling instrument.