Assessment and Error Analysis of Terra-MODIS and MISR Cloud-Top Heights Through Comparison With ISS-CATS Lidar

Arka Mitra, Larry Di Girolamo, Yulan Hong, Yizhe Zhan, Kevin J. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cloud-top heights (CTH) from the Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on Terra constitute our longest-running single-platform CTH record from a stable orbit. Here, we provide the first evaluation of the Terra Level 2 CTH record against collocated International Space Station Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) lidar observations between 50ºN and 50ºS. Bias and precision of Terra CTH relative to CATS is shown to be strongly tied to cloud horizontal and vertical heterogeneity and altitude. For single-layered, unbroken, optically thick clouds observed over all altitudes, the uncertainties in MODIS and MISR CTH are −540 ± 690 m and −280 ± 370 m, respectively. The uncertainties are generally smaller for lower altitude clouds and larger for optically thin clouds. For multi-layered clouds, errors are summarized herein using both absolute CTH and CATS-layer-altitude proximity to Terra CTH. We show that MISR detects the lower cloud in a two-layered system, provided top-layer optical depth <∼0.3, but MISR low-cloud CTH errors are unaltered by the presence of thin cirrus. Systematic and random errors are propagated to explain inter-sensor disagreements, as well as to provide the first estimate of the MISR stereo-opacity bias. For MISR, altitude-dependent wind-retrieval bias (−90 to −110 m) and stereo-opacity bias (−60 to −260 m) and for MODIS, CO2-slicing bias due to geometrically thick cirrus leads to overall negative CTH bias. MISR’s precision is largely driven by precision in retrieved wind-speed (3.7 m s−1), whereas MODIS precision is driven by forward-modeling uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JD034281
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 8 2021


  • MISR
  • Terra MODIS
  • Terra satellite
  • cloud-top heights
  • error analysis
  • stereo-opacity bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


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