Remote Sensing of Environment: Mineral dust optical properties for remote sensing and global modeling: A review

21 February 2024

Remote Sensing of Environment new publication: Mineral dust optical properties for remote sensing and global modeling: A review

Patricia Castellanos, Peter Colarco, W. Reed Espinosa, Scott D. Guzewich, Robert C. Levy, Ron L. Miller, Mian Chin, Ralph A. Kahn, Osku Kemppinen, Hans Moosmüller, Edward P. Nowottnick, Adriana Rocha-Lima, Michael D. Smith, John E. Yorks, Hongbin Yu,
Mineral dust optical properties for remote sensing and global modeling: A review,
Remote Sensing of Environment,
Volume 303,
ISSN 0034-4257,


Dust plays a key role in many Earth system processes and is ubiquitous in the Martian atmosphere. Various intensive field campaigns, laboratory analyses, space-based remote sensing missions, and global modeling efforts aim to characterize dust optical properties. This is a bountiful time for dust scientists, and yet the interpretation of retrievals and comparison to models remains complicated by various conflicting assumptions that are part of each algorithm. For example, the conversion of satellite radiance measurements into products like aerosol optical depth for model evaluation depends upon aerosol properties like particle size and shape that are often prescribed and not part of the retrieval. Conversely, the model calculation of aerosol optical depth often uses different assumptions.

The goal of this review is to first document algorithmic assumptions by various satellite retrieval products and models, and identify where there is consistency and where there are differences. In general, the differences documented in this paper reflect uncertainties resulting from incomplete observational characterization of dust aerosols and limitations in our understanding. Second, we note what observations might reduce uncertainties in our knowledge and bring greater consistency to retrievals and models, allowing for a more rigorous and harmonious comparison. The lack of comprehensive and realistic shape models for dust is an outstanding issue, such that closure between forward modeling from particle refractive index, shape, and size and observed optical properties cannot be achieved. Limitations in the computational methods that must be applied to model scattering from complex shapes also makes accurate optical modeling for dust challenging. 

Field observations indicate the persistence of coarse and giant dust particles at higher altitudes and farther downwind from their source than previously expected. Remote sensing retrieval algorithms based on observations at visible wavelengths have limited sensitivity to these particles and generally do not consider them, although a recent product based on longwave radiances is encouraging. Current measurements of the refractive index of bulk dust and fundamental dust mineralogy components such as hematite vary widely, inhibiting attempts to represent the variability in dust optical properties and forcing, as expected from different major dust source regions on Earth that have varying mineralogical composition. Some remote sensing retrieval algorithms allow for limited refractive index variability in their inversion solutions through mixing with other fine mode aerosol models, or optimizing the single scattering albedo, but Earth system models surveyed for this paper.

Barcelona Dust Regional Center