National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Uncertainty in net surface heat flux due to differences in commonly used albedo products

Hogikyan, A., M.F. Cronin, D. Zhang, and S. Kato

J. Climate, 33(1), 303–315, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0448.1, View online (2020)

The ocean surface albedo is responsible for the distribution of solar (shortwave) radiant energy between the atmosphere and ocean and therefore is a key parameter in Earth’s surface energy budget. In situ ocean observations typically do not measure upward reflected solar radiation, which is necessary to compute net solar radiation into the ocean. Instead, the upward component is computed from the measured downward component using an albedo estimate. At two NOAA Ocean Climate Station buoy sites in the North Pacific, the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) monthly climatological albedo has been used, while for the NOAA Global Tropical Buoy Array a constant albedo is used. This constant albedo is also used in the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Response Experiment (COARE) bulk flux algorithm. This study considers the impacts of using the more recently available NASA Cloud and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) albedo product for these ocean surface heat flux products. Differences between albedo estimates in global satellite products like these imply uncertainty in the net surface solar radiation heat flux estimates that locally exceed the target uncertainty of 1.0 W m−2 for the global mean, set by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Albedo has large spatiotemporal variability on hourly, monthly, and interannual time scales. Biases in high-resolution SWnet (the difference between surface downwelling and upwelling shortwave radiation) can arise if the albedo diurnal cycle is unresolved. As a result, for periods when satellite albedo data are not available it is recommended that an hourly climatology be used when computing high-resolution net surface shortwave radiation.

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