Insights into Tikhonov regularization: application to trace gas column retrieval and the efficient calculation of total column averaging kernels
Abstract. Insights are given into Tikhonov regularization and its application to the retrieval of vertical column densities of atmospheric trace gases from remote sensing measurements. The study builds upon the equivalence of the least-squares profile-scaling approach and Tikhonov regularization method of the first kind with an infinite regularization strength. Here, the vertical profile is expressed relative to a reference profile. On the basis of this, we propose a new algorithm as an extension of the least-squares profile scaling which permits the calculation of total column averaging kernels on arbitrary vertical grids using an analytic expression. Moreover, we discuss the effective null space of the retrieval, which comprises those parts of a vertical trace gas distribution which cannot be inferred from the measurements. Numerically the algorithm can be implemented in a robust and efficient manner. In particular for operational data processing with challenging demands on processing time, the proposed inversion method in combination with highly efficient forward models is an asset. For demonstration purposes, we apply the algorithm to CO column retrieval from simulated measurements in the 2.3 μm spectral region and to O3 column retrieval from the UV. These represent ideal measurements of a series of spaceborne spectrometers such as SCIAMACHY, TROPOMI, GOME, and GOME-2. For both spectral ranges, we consider clear-sky and cloudy scenes where clouds are modelled as an elevated Lambertian surface. Here, the smoothing error for the clear-sky and cloudy atmosphere is significant and reaches several percent, depending on the reference profile which is used for scaling. This underlines the importance of the column averaging kernel for a proper interpretation of retrieved column densities. Furthermore, we show that the smoothing due to regularization can be underestimated by calculating the column averaging kernel on a too coarse vertical grid. For both retrievals, this effect becomes negligible for a vertical grid with 20–40 equally thick layers between 0 and 50 km.