SPEX: a highly accurate spectropolarimeter for atmospheric aerosol characterization


Global characterization of atmospheric aerosol in terms of the microphysical properties of the particles is essential for understanding the role aerosols in Earth climate [1]. For more accurate predictions of future climate the uncertainties of the net radiative forcing of aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere must be reduced [2]. Essential parameters that are needed as input in climate models are not only the aerosol optical thickness (AOT), but also particle specific properties such as the aerosol mean size, the single scattering albedo (SSA) and the complex refractive index. The latter can be used to discriminate between absorbing and non-absorbing aerosol types, and between natural and anthropogenic aerosol. Classification of aerosol types is also very important for air-quality and health-related issues [3]. Remote sensing from an orbiting satellite platform is the only way to globally characterize atmospheric aerosol at a relevant timescale of 1 day [4]. One of the few methods that can be employed for measuring the microphysical properties of aerosols is to observe both radiance and degree of linear polarization of sunlight scattered in the Earth atmosphere under different viewing directions [5][6][7]. The requirement on the absolute accuracy of the degree of linear polarization P$_L$ is very stringent: the absolute error in P$_L$ must be smaller then 0.001+0.005.P$_L$ in order to retrieve aerosol parameters with sufficient accuracy to advance climate modelling and to enable discrimination of aerosol types based on their refractive index for air-quality studies [6][7]. In this paper we present the SPEX instrument, which is a multi-angle spectropolarimeter that can comply with the polarimetric accuracy needed for characterizing aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. We describe the implementation of spectral polarization modulation in a prototype instrument of SPEX and show results of ground based measurements from which aerosol microphysical properties are retrieved.