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Impact of Aerosol Vertical Distribution on Aerosol Optical Depth Retrieval from Passive Satellite Sensors

Li, Chong and Li, Jing and Dubovik, Oleg and Zeng, Zhao-Cheng and Yung, Yuk L. (2020) Impact of Aerosol Vertical Distribution on Aerosol Optical Depth Retrieval from Passive Satellite Sensors. Remote Sensing, 12 (9). Art. No. 1524. ISSN 2072-4292. doi:10.3390/rs12091524.

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When retrieving Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) from passive satellite sensors, the vertical distribution of aerosols usually needs to be assumed, potentially causing uncertainties in the retrievals. In this study, we use the Moderate Resolution Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensors as examples to investigate the impact of aerosol vertical distribution on AOD retrievals. A series of sensitivity experiments was conducted using radiative transfer models with different aerosol profiles and surface conditions. Assuming a 0.2 AOD, we found that the AOD retrieval error is the most sensitive to the vertical distribution of absorbing aerosols; a −1 km error in aerosol scale height can lead to a ~30% AOD retrieval error. Moreover, for this aerosol type, ignoring the existence of the boundary layer can further result in a ~10% AOD retrieval error. The differences in the vertical distribution of scattering and absorbing aerosols within the same column may also cause −15% (scattering aerosols above absorbing aerosols) to 15% (scattering aerosols below absorbing aerosols) errors. Surface reflectance also plays an important role in affecting the AOD retrieval error, with higher errors over brighter surfaces in general. The physical mechanism associated with the AOD retrieval errors is also discussed. Finally, by replacing the default exponential profile with the observed aerosol vertical profile by a micro-pulse lidar at the Beijing-PKU site in the VIIRS retrieval algorithm, the retrieved AOD shows a much better agreement with surface observations, with the correlation coefficient increased from 0.63 to 0.83 and bias decreased from 0.15 to 0.03. Our study highlights the importance of aerosol vertical profile assumption in satellite AOD retrievals, and indicates that considering more realistic profiles can help reduce the uncertainties.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Li, Chong0000-0002-1177-3805
Li, Jing0000-0002-0540-0412
Dubovik, Oleg0000-0003-3482-6460
Zeng, Zhao-Cheng0000-0002-0008-6508
Yung, Yuk L.0000-0002-4263-2562
Additional Information:© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( Received: 9 April 2020; Accepted: 5 May 2020; Published: 11 May 2020. The authors gratefully appreciate the AERONET site principal investigators for providing and maintaining the ground-based measurements and data can be found online at We’d like to acknowledge the VIIRS Team for freely distributed data which can be accessed from NOAA Comprehensive Large Array-Data Stewardship System at We are also grateful to the developers of 6SV and MODTRAN radiative transfer models. O. Dubovik was supported by the CaPPA Project (Chemical and Physical Properties of the Atmosphere) that is funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) through the PIA (Programme d’Investissement d’Avenir) under contract “ANR-11-LABX-0005-01” and by the Regional Council “Nord Pas de Calais-Picardie” and the European Funds for Regional Economic Development. C. Li was supported by the China Scholarship Council for 1 year study at the Université Lille-1. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, J.L.; methodology, C.L., J.L., O.D., Z.-C.Z., Y.L.Y.; investigation, C.L.; writing—original draft preparation, C.L.; writing—review and editing, J.L., O.D., Z.-C.Z., Y.L.Y.; visualization, C.L.; supervision, J.L.; All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. This research was funded by Nation Natural Science Foundation of China No. 41975023 and the National Key Research and Development Program of China No. 2017YFC0212803. The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Group:Astronomy Department
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Natural Science Foundation of China41975023
National Key Research and Development Program of China2017YFC0212803
Subject Keywords:aerosol vertical distribution; aerosol optical depth; satellite AOD retrieval
Issue or Number:9
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200511-132935776
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Li, C.; Li, J.; Dubovik, O.; Zeng, Z.-C.; Yung, Y.L. Impact of Aerosol Vertical Distribution on Aerosol Optical Depth Retrieval from Passive Satellite Sensors. Remote Sens. 2020, 12, 1524.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:103109
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:11 May 2020 21:10
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:18

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