1Atmospheric Chemistry Department, Max-Planck Institute of Chemistry, P.O. Box 3060, 55020 Mainz, Germany
2Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Johannes Gutenberg University, 55099 Mainz, Germany
3The Cyprus Institute, Energy, Environment and Water Research Center, P.O. Box 27456, 1645 Nicosia, Cyprus
4National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder, CO, USA
Abstract. It is now possible to monitor the global and long-term trends of trace gases that are important to atmospheric chemistry, climate, and air quality with satellite data records that span more than a decade. However, many of the remote sensing techniques used by satellite instruments produce measurements that have variable sensitivity to the vertical profiles of atmospheric gases. In the case of constrained retrievals like optimal estimation, this leads to a varying amount of a priori information in the retrieval and is represented by an averaging kernel. In this study, we investigate to what extent such trends can be biased by temporal changes of averaging kernels used in the retrieval algorithm. In particular, the surface carbon monoxide data retrieved from the Measurements Of Pollution In The Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument from 2001 to 2010 were analysed. As a practical example based on the MOPITT data, we show that if the true atmospheric mixing ratio is continuously 50% higher or lower than the a priori state, the temporal change of the averaging kernel at the surface level gives rise to an artificial trend in retrieved surface carbon monoxide, ranging from −10.71 to +13.21 ppbv yr−1 (−5.68 to +8.84% yr−1) depending on location. Therefore, in the case of surface (or near-surface level) CO derived from MOPITT, the AKs trends multiplied by the difference between true and a priori states must be quantified in order to estimate trend biases.