Evaluating the impact of aerosol particles above cloud on cloud optical depth retrievals from MODIS



Using two different operational Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) cloud optical depth (COD) retrievals (0.86 versus 1.6 µm), we evaluate the impact of above-cloud smoke aerosol particles on near-IR (0.86 µm) COD retrievals. Aerosol Index (AI) from the collocated Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) are used to identify above-cloud aerosol particle loading over the southern Atlantic Ocean, including both smoke and dust from the African subcontinent. Collocated Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation data constrain cloud phase and provide contextual above-cloud aerosol optical depth. The frequency of occurrence of above-cloud aerosol events is depicted on a global scale for the spring and summer seasons from OMI and Cloud Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization. Seasonal frequencies for smoke-over-cloud off the southwestern Africa coastline reach 20–50% in boreal summer. We find a corresponding low COD bias of 10–20% for standard MODIS COD retrievals when averaged OMI AI are larger than 1. No such bias is found over the Saharan dust outflow region off northern Africa, since both MODIS 0.86 and 1.6 µm channels are vulnerable to radiance attenuation due to dust particles. A similar result is found for a smaller domain, in the Gulf of Tonkin region, from smoke advection over marine stratocumulus clouds and outflow into the northern South China Sea in spring. This study shows the necessity of accounting for the above-cloud aerosol events for future studies using standard MODIS cloud products in biomass burning outflow regions, through the use of collocated OMI AI and supplementary MODIS 1.6 µm COD products.