1Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
2Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
3Department of Atmospheric Science, College of Engineering, University of Wyoming, Laramie, USA
Abstract. A new retrieval algorithm is presented, which is based on the Optimal Estimation (OE) approach and aimed to improve current estimates of aerosol microphysical properties under non-volcanic conditions. The new OE algorithm retrieves log-normal particle size distribution parameters and associated uncertainties from multi-wavelength aerosol extinction data at visible to near infrared wavelengths. The algorithm was tested on synthetic data and then applied to SAGE (Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment) II data measured in 1999 in the lower stratosphere between 10 and 35 km.
Model validation based on synthetic data shows that the new algorithm is able to retrieve the particle size of typical background aerosols accurately and that the retrieved uncertainties are a good estimate of the true errors. Aerosol properties retrieved from measured SAGE II extinction data (recorded in 1999) using the OE approach were compared to Principal Component Analysis (PCA) results retrieved from the same SAGE II data set. The OE surface area and volume densities are observed to be larger than the PCA values by 20–50% and 10–40% whereas the OE effective radii tend to be smaller by about 10–40%. An examination of the OE algorithm biases with in situ data indicates that the new OE estimates are likely to be more realistic than the PCA results.
Based on the results of this study we suggest that the new OE retrieval algorithm provides improved estimates of aerosol properties in the lower stratosphere under low aerosol loading conditions.