Polarimetric backscatter sonde observations of southern ocean clouds and aerosols

Murray Hamilton, Simon P. Alexander, Alain Protat, Steven Siems, Scott Carpentier

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Balloon-borne polarimetric backscatter sonde (polarsonde) observations of aerosol and cloud during the approach of a cold front at Macquarie Island (54.499 S 158.937 E) are described. The polarsonde captures vertical profiles of cloud occurrence and phase. The cloud base and cloud top heights from the backscatter sonde compare favourably with observations made by a co-located cloud radar and ceilometer. An estimate of the total scatter probability from a liquid cloud layer at 1000 m height is used with a Monte Carlo model of the instrument to obtain cloud particle concentration, and this is compared to a measurement of cloud condensation nucleus concentration made at sea level. Backscatter from aerosol, as well as cloud, is significant. A high aerosol loading in part of the pre-frontal airmass is observed at altitudes up to 6 km. Below the melting level, the high cross-polarised return, relative to the co-polarised, indicates a substantial concentration of solid, non-spherical aerosol particles, which due to the high humidity cannot be sea salt or sulphate. A back trajectory analysis indicates that the observed aerosol includes continental dust.

Original languageEnglish
Article number399
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2020


  • Aerosol
  • Backscatter sonde
  • Cloud
  • Southern Ocean

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