Probing the Explainability of Neural Network Cloud-Top Pressure Models for LEO and GEO Imagers
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Probing the Explainability of Neural Network Cloud-Top Pressure Models for LEO and GEO Imagers

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  • Journal Title:
    Artificial Intelligence for the Earth Systems
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    Satellite low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) and geostationary (GEO) imager estimates of cloud-top pressure (CTP) have many applications in both operations and in studying long-term variations in cloud properties. Recently, machine learning (ML) approaches have shown improvement upon physically based algorithms. However, ML approaches, and especially neural networks, can suffer from a lack of interpretability, making it difficult to understand what information is most useful for accurate predictions of cloud properties. We trained several neural networks to estimate CTP from the infrared channels of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The main focus of this work is assessing the relative importance of each instrument’s infrared channels in neural networks trained to estimate CTP. We use several ML explainability methods to offer different perspectives on feature importance. These methods show many differences in the relative feature importance depending on the exact method used, but most agree on a few points. Overall, the 8.4- and 8.6-μm channels appear to be the most useful for CTP estimation on ABI and VIIRS, respectively, with other native infrared window channels and the 13.3-μm channel playing a moderate role. Furthermore, we find that the neural networks learn relationships that may account for properties of clouds such as opacity and cloud-top phase that otherwise complicate the estimation of CTP. Significance Statement Model interpretability is an important consideration for transitioning machine learning models to operations. This work applies several explainability methods in an attempt to understand what information is most important for estimating the pressure level at the top of a cloud from satellite imagers in a neural network model. We observe much disagreement between approaches, which motivates further work in this area but find agreement on the importance of channels in the infrared window region around 8.6 and 10–12 μm, informing future cloud property algorithm development. We also find some evidence suggesting that these neural networks are able to learn physically relevant variability in radiation measurements related to key cloud properties.
  • Source:
    Artificial Intelligence for the Earth Systems, 1(4)
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