Sunday, February 24, 2008

Aerosol Radiative Effects over Global Land: A Satellite based Study

GRL published an article on estimation of aerosol radiative effects over global land using purely observations from Terra satellite on February 22, 2008. Although, I am one of the co-author in the paper but I would like to congrats Falguni Patadia, first author of the paper for her research, which is first attempt in certain ways. This paper presents the estimation of top of the atmosphere (TOA) short wave aerosol radiative effects over global land areas for each half degree by half degree grid point. The uniqueness of the study comes from the fact that it is purely observation based study, which does not involve any complex radiative transfer and/or climate model runs. Results of the study are encouraging and matches very well with other purely model or hybrid (model and observations) type of studies. This research used one year worth of satellite observations of TOA fluxes derived from CERES broadband instrument, MODIS high resolution cloud masks and MISR derived aerosol optical thickness data sets to perform the analysis. As we all know that, aerosol impacts in climate change studies in one of the most uncertain component and level of scientific understanding about this component is very low. This study is certainly a good start and will help to understand aerosol effects on earth-atmosphere radiation budget. For more details on the results and methodology, please refer the publication and if you do not have access to the article, we will be happy to share reprints with you.

Complete Reference:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Is atmospheric aerosol an aerosol? comments on the article by Jaenicke

The title of a recent article "Is atmospheric aerosol an aerosol?" by Jaenicke caught my attention. This took me back in time, when I was just beginning my career in this field. The first definition I came across or rather assumed was: "anything solid or liquid suspended in the air is aerosol". According to this definition birds and aeroplanes were also aerosols! Thinking of birds and aeroplanes as aerosols wasn't intuitive hence I had to search for a more refined definition. A better one that I came across (well I don't remember from where) was: "any thing suspended in the air and doesn't have self-propelling mechanism is aerosol". This definition implied that mosquitoes are not aerosols but bacteria and virus are. However, this new definition didn't help me win an argument with my friend Neeraj (one of the authors of this blog) who held an opinion that water and ice clouds are aerosols as well, whereas I held the opinion that they are not. We concluded arguments by accepting that clouds are special cases of aerosols and if not explicitly mentioned, atmospheric aerosols mean liquid and solid particles suspended in the air and have aerodynamic diameter between 1e-3 and 1 ┬Ám.

Technically aerosols are defined as colloid of air and solid/liquid particles, where air is the dispersion medium and particles are in dispersed phase. The word aerosols brings-in naturally the interaction between particles and air. When particles are not in the air, for example particles collected on filter papers, they are no more aerosols. Hence aerosol is a state of particles rather than the particle itself. This is the reason why most pollution and chemistry related studies report them as particulate matter (PM) because these studies require collecting them on filter papers, while most climate related studies report particles as aerosols since particles are climate modulator as long they are in the air.

Coming back to Jaenicke's article, he starts with questioning the very definition of atmospheric aerosol as colloid. Schmauss and Wigand were probably the first to define atmosphere as colloid of air and particles. The word colloid itself was coined in the year 1875 by Gerber to describe a pseudosolution prepared by Selmi (reference in Jaenicke, 2008) . Jaenicke sees a reason to question this definition because colloid implies a stable state, homogeneity and monodispersed size distribution. Hardly any of these is true for atmospheric aerosols. On the other hand there are properties such as surface-to-volume ratio, interactions between nearby particles, multiple scattering, etc that support their definition as colloid. Jaenicke concludes that atmospheric aerosols can be considered colloid in dynamic equilibrium.

The crux of the paper is not the discussion on the definition of aerosol but modeling aerosol concentration in the atmosphere under the framework of dynamic equilibrium. Dynamic equilibrium by its nature results in highly variable aerosol concentration. Which in turn requires better temporal resolution for measuring them. In this discussion, Jaenicke highlights quite a few gaps in our knowledge about atmospheric aerosols.


Jaenicke, R. (2008). Is atmospheric aerosol an aerosol?-a look at sources and variability. Faraday Discuss 137, 235-243.

Art work: courtesy Malkaush

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Satellite remote sensing of active fires: Impact of clouds

It has been long time since passive satellite observations in visible and thermal part of the spectrum have been used to monitor and quantify the biomass burning over global areas. Space sensors such as AVHRR, MODIS, and GOES are some of the examples, which continuously monitor vegetation fires under clear sky conditions. But, these sensors are limited to cloud free conditions and there could be large errors in estimation of fire activities due to lack of sampling under cloudy conditions. Remote Sensing of Environment published a research article entitled “Quantifying the impact of cloud obscuration on remote sensing of active fires in the Brazilian Amazon” by Wilfrid Schroeder and coauthors discuss the bias in remote sensing fire data due to possible cloud cover during fire activities over Brazilian Amazon.

The abstract read as “Vegetation fires remain as one of the most important processes governing land use and land cover change in tropical areas. The large area extent of fire prone areas associated with human activities makes satellite remote sensing of active fires a valuable tool to help monitor biomass burning in those regions. However, identification of active fire fronts under optically thick clouds is not possible through passive remote sensing, often resulting in omission errors. Previous analyses of fire activity either ignored the cloud obscuration problem or applied corrections based on the assumption that fire occurrence is not impacted by the presence of clouds. In this study we addressed the cloud obscuration problem in the Brazilian Amazon region using a pixel based probabilistic approach, using information on previous fire occurrence, precipitation and land use. We implemented the methodology using data from the geostationary GOES imager, covering the entire diurnal cycle of fire activity and cloud occurrence. Our assessment of the method indicated that the cloud adjustment reproduced the number of potential fires missed within 1.5% and 5% of the true fire counts on annual and monthly bases respectively. Spatially explicit comparison with high resolution burn scar maps in Acre state showed a reduction of omission error (from 58.3% to 43.7%) and only slight increase of commission error (from 6.4% to 8.8%) compared to uncorrected fire counts. A basin-wide analysis of corrected GOES fire counts during 2005 showed a mean cloud adjustment factor of approximately 11%, ranging from negligible adjustment in the central and western part of the Brazilian Amazon to as high as 50% in parts of Roraima, Para and Mato Grosso.”

For more details refer the original publication:

Wilfrid Schroeder, Ivan Csiszar and Jeffrey Morisette, Quantifying the impact of cloud obscuration on remote sensing of active fires in the Brazilian Amazon, Remote Sensing of Environment, Volume 112, Issue 2, 15 February 2008, Pages 456-470.