Impact of satellite viewing-swath width on global and regional aerosol optical thickness statistics and trends
Abstract. We use the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite aerosol optical thickness (AOT) product to assess the impact of reduced swath width on global and regional AOT statistics and trends. Along-track and across-track sampling strategies are employed, in which the full MODIS data set is sub-sampled with various narrow-swath (~ 400–800 km) and single pixel width (~ 10 km) configurations. Although view-angle artifacts in the MODIS AOT retrieval confound direct comparisons between averages derived from different sub-samples, careful analysis shows that with many portions of the Earth essentially unobserved, spatial sampling introduces uncertainty in the derived seasonal–regional mean AOT. These AOT spatial sampling artifacts comprise up to 60% of the full-swath AOT value under moderate aerosol loading, and can be as large as 0.1 in some regions under high aerosol loading. Compared to full-swath observations, narrower swath and single pixel width sampling exhibits a reduced ability to detect AOT trends with statistical significance. On the other hand, estimates of the global, annual mean AOT do not vary significantly from the full-swath values as spatial sampling is reduced. Aggregation of the MODIS data at coarse grid scales (10°) shows consistency in the aerosol trends across sampling strategies, with increased statistical confidence, but quantitative errors in the derived trends are found even for the full-swath data when compared to high spatial resolution (0.5°) aggregations. Using results of a model-derived aerosol reanalysis, we find consistency in our conclusions about a seasonal–regional spatial sampling artifact in AOT. Furthermore, the model shows that reduced spatial sampling can amount to uncertainty in computed shortwave top-of-atmosphere aerosol radiative forcing of 2–3 W m−2. These artifacts are lower bounds, as possibly other unconsidered sampling strategies would perform less well. These results suggest that future aerosol satellite missions having significantly less than full-swath viewing are unlikely to sample the true AOT distribution well enough to obtain the statistics needed to reduce uncertainty in aerosol direct forcing of climate.