Polar Observations and Processes

NOAA Portable Cloud Observatory (NPCO)

Clouds have profound effects on climate and climate change through their ability to alter radiant energy and convert water between vapor, liquid, and ice phases. As such, an improved knowledge of cloud structure and processes is vital to understanding the potential reactions of climate to various influences, including greenhouse warming.

The NPCO combines active and passive remote sensors in an integrated cloud-profiling system housed in a single standard 20-foot sea container. Formerly called the MMCR Package, the NPCO combines a super-sensitivity, high-resolution cloud radar with microwave in infrared radiometers to provide, continuous, unattended measurements of the properties of clouds overhead. In the future, dual-polarization lidar may be added to this system.

The NPCO's cloud radar is identical to those designed by PSD for the U.S. Department of Energy's Cloud and Radiation Testbed sites. The NPCO employs automated retrieval algorithms to provide continuous information on the vertical distribution of cloud hydrometeor types, liquid water content, ice mass content, mean droplet and crystal sizes, particle concentrations, and cloud kinematics. The system has operated for cloud research experiments on land and aboard research ships at sea.

Images and plots of raw and retrieved cloud microphysical parameters can be viewed at: Fireface Data/


NPCO deployed in Florida for CRYSTAL-FACE experiment