A SmallSat Concept to Resolve Diurnal and Vertical Variations of Aerosols, Clouds, and Boundary Layer Height

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Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society







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A SmallSat mission concept is formulated here to carry out Time-varying Optical Measurements of Clouds and Aerosol Transport (TOMCAT) from space while embracing low-cost opportunities enabled by the revolution in Earth science observation technologies. TOMCAT’s “around-the-clock” measurements will provide needed insights and strong synergy with existing Earth observation satellites to 1) statistically resolve diurnal and vertical variation of cirrus cloud properties (key to Earth’s radiation budget), 2) determine the impacts of regional and seasonal planetary boundary layer (PBL) diurnal variation on surface air quality and low-level cloud distributions, and 3) characterize smoke and dust emission processes impacting their long-range transport on the subseasonal to seasonal time scales. Clouds, aerosol particles, and the PBL play critical roles in Earth’s climate system at multiple spatiotemporal scales. Yet their vertical variations as a function of local time are poorly measured from space. Active sensors for profiling the atmosphere typically utilize sun-synchronous low-Earth orbits (LEO) with rather limited temporal and spatial coverage, inhibiting the characterization of spatiotemporal variability. Pairing compact active lidar and passive multiangle remote sensing technologies from an inclined LEO platform enables measurements of the diurnal and vertical variability of aerosols, clouds, and aerosol-mixing-layer (or PBL) height in tropical-to-midlatitude regions where most of the world’s population resides. TOMCAT is conceived to bring potential societal benefits by delivering its data products in near–real time and offering on-demand hazard-monitoring capabilities to profile fire injection of smoke particles, the frontal lofting of dust particles, and the eruptive rise of volcanic plumes.

Funding Sponsor

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Aerosols/particulates, Boundary layer, Clouds, Diurnal effects, Remote sensing, Seasonal variability


Full author list: John E. Yorks, Jun Wang, Matthew J. McGill, Melanie Follette-Cook, Edward P. Nowottnick, Jeffrey S. Reid, Peter R. Colarco, Jianglong Zhang, Olga Kalashnikova, Hongbin Yu, Franco Marenco, Joseph A. Santanello, Tammy M. Weckwerth, Zhanqing Li, James R. Campbell, Ping Yang, Minghui Diao, Vincent Noel, Kerry G. Meyer, James L. Carr, Michael Garay, Kenneth Christian, Angela Bennedetti, Allison M. Ring, Alice Crawford, Michael J. Pavolonis, Valentina Aquila, Jhoon Kim, and Shobha Kondragunta
© Copyright April 19, 2023 AMS


Meteorology and Climate Science