A comparison of model- and satellite-derived aerosol optical depth and reflectivity

Joyce E. Penner, Sophia Y. Zhang, Mian Chin, Catherine C. Chuang, Johann Feichter, Yan Feng, Igor V. Geogdzhayev, Paul Ginoux, Michael Herzog, Akiko Higurashi, Dorothy Koch, Christine Land, Ulrike Lohmann, Michael Mishchenko, Teruyuki Nakajima, Giovanni Pitari, Brian Soden, Ina Tegen, Lawrence Stowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The determination of an accurate quantitative understanding of the role of tropospheric aerosols in the earth's radiation budget is extremely important because forcing by anthropogenic aerosols presently represents one of the most uncertain aspects of climate models. Here the authors present a systematic comparison of three different analyses of satellite-retrieved aerosol optical depth based on the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR)-measured radiances with optical depths derived from six different models. Also compared are the model-derived clear-sky reflected shortwave radiation with satellite-measured reflectivities derived from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) satellite. The three different satellite-derived optical depths differ by between -0.10 and 0.07 optical depth units in comparison to the average of the three analyses depending on latitude and month, but the general features of the retrievals are similar. The models differ by between -0.09 and +0.16 optical depth units from the average of the models. Differences between the average of the models and the average of the satellite analyses range over -0.11 to +0.05 optical depth units. These differences are significant since the annual average clear-sky radiative forcing associated with the difference between the average of the models and the average of the satellite analyses ranges between -3.9 and 0.7 W m-2 depending on latitude and is -1.7 W m-2 on a global average annual basis. Variations in the source strengths of dimethylsulfide-derived aerosols and sea salt aerosols can explain differences between the models, and between the models and satellite retrievals of up to 0.2 optical depth units. The comparison of model-generated reflected shortwave radiation and ERBE-measured shortwave radiation is similar in character as a function of latitude to the analysis of modeled and satellite-retrieved optical depths, but the differences between the modeled clear-sky reflected flux and the ERBE clear-sky reflected flux is generally larger than that inferred from the difference between the models and the AVHRR optical depths, especially at high latitudes. The difference between the mean of the models and the ERBE-analyzed clear-sky flux is 1.6 W m-2. The overall comparison indicates that the model-generated aerosol optical depth is systematically lower than that inferred from measurements between the latitudes of 10° and 30°S. It is not likely that the shortfall is due to small values of the sea salt optical depth because increases in this component would create modeled optical depths that are larger than those from satellites in the region north of 30°N and near 50°S. Instead, the source strengths for DMS and biomass aerosols in the models may be too low. Firm conclusions, however, will require better retrieval procedures for the satellites, including better cloud screening procedures, further improvement of the model's treatment of aerosol transport and removal, and a better determination of aerosol source strengths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-460
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3 PT 1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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