What is the benefit of ceilometers for aerosol remote sensing? An answer from EARLINET
Abstract. With the establishment of ceilometer networks by national weather services, a discussion commenced to which extent these simple backscatter lidars can be used for aerosol research. Though primarily designed for the detection of clouds it was shown that at least observations of the vertical structure of the boundary layer might be possible. However, an assessment of the potential of ceilometers for the quantitative retrieval of aerosol properties is still missing. In this paper we discuss different retrieval methods to derive the aerosol backscatter coefficient βp, with special focus on the calibration of the ceilometers. Different options based on forward and backward integration methods are compared with respect to their accuracy and applicability. It is shown that advanced lidar systems such as those being operated in the framework of the European Aerosol Research Lidar Network (EARLINET) are excellent tools for the calibration, and thus βp retrievals based on forward integration can readily be implemented and used for real-time applications. Furthermore, we discuss uncertainties introduced by incomplete overlap, the unknown lidar ratio, and water vapor absorption. The latter is relevant for the very large number of ceilometers operating in the spectral range around λ = 905–910 nm. The accuracy of the retrieved βp mainly depends on the accuracy of the calibration and the long-term stability of the ceilometer. Under favorable conditions, a relative error of βp on the order of 10% seems feasible. In the case of water vapor absorption, corrections assuming a realistic water vapor distribution and laser spectrum are indispensable; otherwise errors on the order of 20% could occur. From case studies it is shown that ceilometers can be used for the reliable detection of elevated aerosol layers below 5 km, and can contribute to the validation of chemistry transport models, e.g., the height of the boundary layer. However, the exploitation of ceilometer measurements is still in its infancy, so more studies are urgently needed to consolidate the present state of knowledge, which is based on a limited number of case studies.