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The potential of clear-sky carbon dioxide satellite retrievals

Nelson, R. R., C. O'Dell, T. E. Taylor, L. Mandrake, and M. Smyth (2016), The potential of clear-sky carbon dioxide satellite retrievals, Atmos. Meas. Tech., 9, 1671-1684, doi:10.5194/amt-9-1671-2016.

Since the launch of the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) in 2009, retrieval algorithms designed to infer the column-averaged dry-air mole fraction of carbon dioxide (XCO2 ) from hyperspectral near-infrared observations of reflected sunlight have been greatly improved. They now generally include the scattering effects of clouds and aerosols, as early work found that absorption-only retrievals, which neglected these effects, often incurred unacceptably large errors, even for scenes with optically thin cloud or aerosol layers. However, these “full-physics” retrievals tend to be computationally expensive and may incur biases from trying to deduce the properties of clouds and aerosols when there are none present. Additionally, algorithms are now available that can quickly and effectively identify and remove most scenes in which cloud or aerosol scattering plays a significant role.

In this work, we test the hypothesis that non-scattering, or “clear-sky”, retrievals may perform as well as full-physics retrievals for sufficiently clear scenes. Clear-sky retrievals could potentially avoid errors and biases brought about by trying to infer properties of clouds and aerosols when none are present. Clear-sky retrievals are also desirable because they are orders of magnitude faster than full-physics retrievals. Here we use a simplified version of the Atmospheric Carbon Observations from Space (ACOS) XCO2 retrieval algorithm that does not include the scattering and absorption effects of clouds or aerosols. It was found that for simulated Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) measurements, the clear-sky retrieval had errors comparable to those of the fullphysics retrieval. For real GOSAT data, the clear-sky retrieval had errors 0–20 % larger than the full-physics retrieval over land and errors roughly 20–35 % larger over ocean, depending on filtration level. In general, the clear-sky retrieval had XCO2 root-mean-square errors (RMSEs) of less than 2.0 ppm, relative to Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON) measurements and a suite of CO2 models, when adequately filtered through the use of a custom genetic algorithm filtering system. These results imply that non-scattering XCO2 retrievals are potentially more useful than previous literature suggests, as the filtering methods we employ are able to remove measurements in which scattering can cause significant errors. Additionally, the computational benefits of non-scattering retrievals means they may be useful for certain applications that require large amounts of data but have less stringent error requirements.

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Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)