Articles | Volume 8, issue 9
Research article
09 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 09 Sep 2015

Use of the CALIOP vertical feature mask for evaluating global aerosol models

E. P. Nowottnick, P. R. Colarco, E. J. Welton, and A. da Silva

Abstract. We use observations from the space-based Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) to evaluate global aerosol distributions simulated in the NASA Modern Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications aerosol reanalysis (MERRAero). We focus particularly on an evaluation of aerosol types, using the CALIOP vertical feature mask (VFM) algorithm, and look especially at Saharan dust distributions during July 2009. MERRAero consists of an aerosol simulation produced in the Goddard Earth Observing System version 5 (GEOS-5) Earth system model and incorporates assimilation of MODIS-derived aerosol optical thickness (AOT) to constrain column aerosol loadings. For comparison to the CALIOP VFM we construct two synthetic VFMs using the MERRAero aerosol distributions: a CALIOP-like VFM in which we simulate the total attenuated backscatter and particle depolarization ratio from the MERRAero output and pass those into the CALIOP VFM typing algorithm (MERRAero-CALIOP), and an extinction-based VFM in which we use the MERRAero-simulated species-resolved extinction to map the MERRAero species to the CALIOP VFM types (MERRAero-Extinction). By comparing the MERRAero-CALIOP VFM to CALIOP VFM, we can diagnose the aerosol transport and speciation in MERRAero. By comparing the MERRAero-CALIOP and MERRAero-Extinction-simulated VFM, we perform a simple observing system experiment (OSE), which is useful for identifying limitations of the CALIOP VFM algorithm itself. We find that, despite having our column AOT constrained by MODIS, comparison to the CALIOP VFM reveals a greater occurrence of dusty aerosol layers in our MERRAero-CALIOP VFM due to errors in MERRAero aerosol speciation. Additionally, we find that the CALIOP VFM algorithm is challenged when classifying aerosol features when multiple aerosol types are present, as our application of the CALIOP VFM algorithm to MERRAero aerosol distributions classified marine-dominated aerosol layers with low aerosol loadings as polluted dust when the contribution of dust to the total extinction was low.