Retrieving aerosol in a cloudy environment: aerosol product availability as a function of spatial resolution
Abstract. The challenge of using satellite observations to retrieve aerosol properties in a cloudy environment is to prevent contamination of the aerosol signal from clouds, while maintaining sufficient aerosol product yield to satisfy specific applications. We investigate aerosol retrieval availability at different instrument pixel resolutions using the standard MODIS aerosol cloud mask applied to MODIS data and supplemented with a new GOES-R cloud mask applied to GOES data for a domain covering North America and surrounding oceans. Aerosol product availability is not the same as the cloud free fraction and takes into account the techniques used in the MODIS algorithm to avoid clouds, reduce noise and maintain sufficient numbers of aerosol retrievals. The inherent spatial resolution of each instrument, 0.5×0.5 km for MODIS and 1×1 km for GOES, is systematically degraded to 1×1, 2×2, 1×4, 4×4 and 8×8 km resolutions and then analyzed as to how that degradation would affect the availability of an aerosol retrieval, assuming an aerosol product resolution at 8×8 km. The analysis is repeated, separately, for near-nadir pixels and those at larger view angles to investigate the effect of pixel growth at oblique angles on aerosol retrieval availability. The results show that as nominal pixel size increases, availability decreases until at 8×8 km 70% to 85% of the retrievals available at 0.5 km, nadir, have been lost. The effect at oblique angles is to further decrease availability over land but increase availability over ocean, because sun glint is found at near-nadir view angles. Finer resolution sensors (i.e., 1×1, 2×2 or even 1×4 km) will retrieve aerosols in partly cloudy scenes significantly more often than sensors with nadir views of 4×4 km or coarser. Large differences in the results of the two cloud masks designed for MODIS aerosol and GOES cloud products strongly reinforce that cloud masks must be developed with specific purposes in mind and that a generic cloud mask applied to an independent aerosol retrieval will likely fail.