Spatio-temporal variability of aerosols in the tropics relationship with atmospheric and oceanic environments

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Zuluaga-Arias, Manuel D.
Webster, Peter J.
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Earth's radiation budget is directly influenced by aerosols through the absorption of solar radiation and subsequent heating of the atmosphere. Aerosols modulate the hydrological cycle indirectly by modifying cloud properties, precipitation and ocean heat storage. In addition, polluting aerosols impose health risks in local, regional and global scales. In spite of recent advances in the study of aerosols variability, uncertainty in their spatial and temporal distributions still presents a challenge in the understanding of climate variability. For example, aerosol loading varies not only from year to year but also on higher frequency intraseasonal time scales producing strong variability on local and regional scales. An assessment of the impact of aerosol variability requires long period measurements of aerosols at both regional and global scales. The present dissertation compiles a large database of remotely sensed aerosol loading in order to analyze its spatio-temporal variability, and how this load interacts with different variables that characterize the dynamic and thermodynamic states of the environment. Aerosol Index (AI) and Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) were used as measures of the atmospheric aerosol load. In addition, atmospheric and oceanic satellite observations, and reanalysis datasets is used in the analysis to investigate aerosol-environment interactions. A diagnostic study is conducted to produce global and regional aerosol satellite climatologies, and to analyze and compare the validity of aerosol retrievals. We find similarities and differences between the aerosol distributions over various regions of the globe when comparing the different satellite retrievals. A nonparametric approach is also used to examine the spatial distribution of the recent trends in aerosol concentration. A significant positive trend was found over the Middle East, Arabian Sea and South Asian regions strongly influenced by increases in dust events. Spectral and composite analyses of surface temperature, atmospheric wind, geopotential height, outgoing longwave radiation, water vapor and precipitation together with the climatology of aerosols provide insight on how the variables interact. Different modes of variability, especially in intraseasonal time scales appear as strong modulators of the aerosol distribution. In particular, we investigate how two modes of variability related to the westward propagating synoptic African Easterly Waves of the Tropical Atlantic Ocean affect the horizontal and vertical structure of the environment. The statistical significance of these two modes is tested with the use of two different spectral techniques. The pattern of propagation of aerosol load shows good correspondence with the progression of the atmospheric and oceanic synoptic conditions suitable for dust mobilization over the Atlantic Ocean. We present extensions to previous studies related with dust variability over the Atlantic region by evaluating the performance of the long period satellite aerosol retrievals in determining modes of aerosol variability. Results of the covariability between aerosols-environment motivate the use of statistical regression models to test the significance of the forecasting skill of daily AOD time series. The regression models are calibrated using atmospheric variables as predictors from the reanalysis variables. The results show poor forecasting skill with significant error growing after the 3rd day of the prediction. It is hypothesized that the simplicity of linear models results in an inability to provide a useful forecast.
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