Deployment of the third-generation infrared cloud imager : a two-year study of Arctic clouds at Barrow, Alaska
Nugent, Paul Winston
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Cloud cover is an important but poorly understood component of current climate models, and although climate change is most easily observed in the Arctic, cloud data in the Arctic is unreliable or simply unavailable. Ground-based infrared cloud imaging has the potential to fill this gap. This technique uses a thermal infrared camera to observe cloud amount, cloud optical depth, and cloud spatial distribution at a particular location. The Montana State University Optical Remote Sensor Laboratory has developed the ground-based Infrared Cloud Imager (ICI) instrument to measure spatial and temporal cloud data. To build an ICI for Arctic sites required the system to be engineered to overcome the challenges of this environment. Of particular challenge was keeping the system calibration and data processing accurate through the severe temperature changes. Another significant challenge was that weak emission from the cold, dry Arctic atmosphere pushed the camera used in the instrument to its operational limits. To gain an understanding of the operation of the ICI systems for the Arctic and to gather critical data on Arctic clouds, a prototype arctic ICI was deployed in Barrow, AK from July 2012 through July 2014. To understand the long-term operation of an ICI in the arctic, a study was conducted of the ICI system accuracy in relation to co-located active and passive sensors. Understanding the operation of this system in the Arctic environment required careful characterization of the full optical system, including the lens, filter, and detector. Alternative data processing techniques using decision trees and support vector machines were studied to improve data accuracy and reduce dependence on auxiliary instrument data and the resulting accuracy is reported here. The work described in this project was part of the effort to develop a fourth-generation ICI ready to be deployed in the Arctic. This system will serve a critical role in developing our understanding of cloud cover in the Arctic, an important but poorly understood region of the world.