Spatial Distribution of Aerosols in Four U.S. Regions: Impacts on Satellite Measurements
Abstract:Aerosol measurements from satellites in geosynchronous orbit allow for a unique opportunity to measure urban air quality at higher spatial and temporal resolution than possible with current ground-based monitoring and satellites in low earth orbit. Geosynchronous satellites will be able to measure air quality throughout the day for a specific region of interest (such as North America for the planned NASA TEMPO satellite). However, a key constraint on satellite measurements is the spatial resolution of the retrieved data products. As the satellite footprint increases, the precision of aerosol properties improves but the ability of the satellite to measure small-scale variations in pollution diminishes. Currently, TEMPO is planned to measure aerosol optical depth (AOD) with a spatial resolution of 36 square-km. In this study, sub-pixel variability is used as a metric of how representative the satellite measurement is of ground-based air quality.
Data from the DISCOVER-AQ airborne project are used to determine the sub-pixel variability in AOD, boundary layer extinction and other aerosol properties in four U.S. regions: Baltimore, Maryland, Houston, Texas, Denver, Colorado, and California’s San Joaquin Valley. Sub-pixel variability in boundary layer extinction was lowest in Denver (one sigma variability of 3 /Mm at 36 square-km spatial resolution) due to low aerosol loadings and highest in the San Joaquin Valley (19 /Mm) due to variable boundary layer depths and stagnant conditions. Variability in AOD (measured by an airborne high-spectral resolution lidar) was more consistent among the sites (0.017 to 0.035) due to a reduced dependence on changes in the planetary boundary layer. The effects of our analysis will also be discussed in relation to the use of satellite measurements to infer air quality attainment. Larger satellite data footprints reduce the ability of satellites to identify small regions in urban areas with elevated pollution (i.e. hotspots) which was found to be the case during the Houston campaign and thus may underestimate air quality problems in a region.