In the present study, the synoptic conditions that favour the occurrence of aerosol episodes over the broader Mediterranean basin are investigated. For this purpose daily satellite measurements of aerosol optical depth (AOD) at 550 nm from MODIS-Terra (Collection 5) for the period from 1 March 2000 to 28 February 2007 were used together with mean-sea-level pressure and geopotential height at 700 hPa obtained from the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis Project. An objective and dynamic algorithm was developed in order to determine strong and extreme aerosol episodes in the study area. According to the applied methodology and the relevant criteria, 322 days with aerosol episodes have been identified. The atmospheric circulation of each day was objectively classified by the implementation of Factor Analysis and Cluster Analysis, resulting in eight representative synoptic conditions (clusters). The aerosol episode days (AEDs) are most frequently observed during the dry period of the year, and especially in July–August (108 days or 33.5%) and April–May (106 days or 33%) and give rise to desert dust, anthropogenic pollution and biomass-burning episodes. The most frequent synoptic conditions are those of Clusters 4 (30.1%) and 5 (21%), inducing episodes that occur primarily in the western and secondarily in the central Mediterranean. In the former case, which is observed in summer, Europe is under the influence of the extended subtropical anticyclone of the Atlantic (Azores), while the eastern Mediterranean is under the influence of the extended thermal low of south-west Asia. In the latter case, in spring and summer, anticyclonic conditions prevail over central Europe and over the east Atlantic Ocean, and low pressures at the northwestern parts of the broader Mediterranean basin and across the Sahara. During the aerosol episode days of the various clusters, the mean regional AOD can reach values up to 0.8 ± 0.2 and 2.3 ± 1.3 for strong and extreme episodes, respectively. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society
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