Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

Jianglong Zhang


Passive longwave infrared radiometric satellite-based retrievals of sea surface temperature (SST) at instrument nadir are investigated for cold bias caused by unscreened optically-thin cirrus (OTC) clouds (cloud optical depth < 0.3; COD). Level 2 split-window SST retrievals over tropical oceans (30 S - 30 N) from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) radiances collected aboard the NASA Aqua satellite (Aqua-MODIS) are collocated with cloud profiles from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) instrument, mounted on the independent NASA CALIPSO satellite. OTC are present in approximately 25% of tropical quality-assured (QA) Aqua-MODIS Level-2 data, representing over 99% of all contaminating cirrus found. This results in cold-biased SST retrievals using either split- (MODIS, AVHRR and VIIRS) or triple-window (AVHRR and VIIRS only) retrieval methods. SST retrievals are modeled based on operational algorithms using radiative transfer model simulations conducted with a hypothetical 1.5 km thick OTC cloud placed incrementally from 10.0 - 18.0 km above mean sea level for cloud optical depths (COD) between 0.0 - 0.3. Corresponding cold bias estimates for each sensor are estimated using relative Aqua-MODIS cloud contamination frequencies as a function of cloud top height and COD (assuming them consistent across each platform) integrated within each corresponding modeled cold bias matrix. Split-window relative OTC cold biases, for any single observation, range from 0.40 - 0.49 C for the three sensors, with an absolute (bulk mean) bias between 0.10 - 0.13 C. Triple-window retrievals are more resilient, ranging from 0.03 - 0.04 C relative and 0.11 - 0.16 C absolute. Cold biases are constant across the Pacific and Indian Ocean domains. Absolute bias is smaller over the Atlantic, but relative bias is larger due to different cloud properties indicating that this issue persists globally.