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Harmonizing and advancing retrieval approaches for present and future polarimetric space-borne atmospheric missions (HARPOL)

Netherlands Institute for Space Research (NWO-I SRON) (NL)


Atmospheric aerosol particles strongly influence climate by scattering and absorbing light (direct forcing) and by changing cloud properties (indirect forcing). The corresponding radiative forcing represents one of the most uncertain radiative forcing terms as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To improve our understanding of the effect of aerosols on climate and air quality, measurements of aerosol chemical composition, size distribution, optical properties like Aerosol Optical Thickness (AOT) and Single Scattering Albedo (SSA), as well as the aerosol height profile are of crucial importance. It has been demonstrated by studies on synthetics measurements, airborne measurements, and space-borne measurements that Multi-Angle Polarimetric (MAP) measurements are needed to provide information about detailed aerosol properties like size distribution, refractive index, SSA, in addition to the AOT.

The only MAP instrument that has provided a multi-year data set (2005-2013) in the past has been the French POLDER-3 instrument on the PARASOL mission. Now space agencies realize the large potential of MAP instrumentation, in the 2020s several of such instruments will be launched, e.g. 3MI on METOP-SG (ESA-2023), SPEXone and HARP-2 on PACE (NASA-2023), and a MAP on the CO2-Monitoring mission (ESA-2025) and A-CCP (NASA-2028). To cope with the increased information content on aerosols of MAP instrumentation and to assess the climatic effect of aerosols, new tools for retrieval need to be (further) developed. So far, this development has lagged behind the instrument development, which is the reason for the under-exploitation of the existing POLDER-3/PARASOL data sets.

Currently, there are two algorithms that have demonstrated capability at a global scale to exploit the rich information content of MAP measurements: the Generalized Retrieval of Aerosol and Surface Properties (GRASP) algorithm, developed at the Laboratory of Atmospheric Optics (LOA) of the University of Lille and the GRASP-sas company,  and the Remote Sensing of Trace gases and Aerosol Properties (RemoTAP) algorithm developed at SRON – Netherlands Institute for Space Research. Both algorithms show good performance against ground based AERONET measurements and already important scientific advancement has been made using the corresponding data products. Nevertheless, when looking at global maps, significant differences are apparent between the two algorithms. In order to improve retrieval products from PARASOL and the upcoming missions containing MAP instrumentation (3MI/METOP-SG, SPEXone/PACE, HARP2/PACE, MAP/CO2M) it is essential to understand the reasons for the differences between the GRASP and RemoTAP algorithms. Therefore, in this project we propose to perform an extensive and systematic comparison between the two algorithms. We expect this will lead to optimized algorithm choices for both algorithms leading to better aerosol products and error characterization. The project will results in improved global data sets of aerosol properties from both algorithms.


Prime contractor
Netherlands Institute for Space Research (NWO-I SRON) (NL)