Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
Development and technical paper
22 Mar 2016
Development and technical paper |  | 22 Mar 2016

OMI NO2 column densities over North American urban cities: the effect of satellite footprint resolution

Hyun Cheol Kim, Pius Lee, Laura Judd, Li Pan, and Barry Lefer

Abstract. Nitrogen dioxide vertical column density (NO2 VCD) measurements via satellite are compared with a fine-scale regional chemistry transport model, using a new approach that considers varying satellite footprint sizes. Space-borne NO2 VCD measurement has been used as a proxy for surface nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission, especially for anthropogenic urban emission, so accurate comparison of satellite and modeled NO2 VCD is important in determining the future direction of NOx emission policy. The NASA Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) NO2 VCD measurements, retrieved by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), are compared with a 12 km Community Multi-scale Air Quality (CMAQ) simulation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We found that the OMI footprint-pixel sizes are too coarse to resolve urban NO2 plumes, resulting in a possible underestimation in the urban core and overestimation outside. In order to quantify this effect of resolution geometry, we have made two estimates. First, we constructed pseudo-OMI data using fine-scale outputs of the model simulation. Assuming the fine-scale model output is a true measurement, we then collected real OMI footprint coverages and performed conservative spatial regridding to generate a set of fake OMI pixels out of fine-scale model outputs. When compared to the original data, the pseudo-OMI data clearly showed smoothed signals over urban locations, resulting in roughly 20–30 % underestimation over major cities. Second, we further conducted conservative downscaling of OMI NO2 VCDs using spatial information from the fine-scale model to adjust the spatial distribution, and also applied averaging kernel (AK) information to adjust the vertical structure. Four-way comparisons were conducted between OMI with and without downscaling and CMAQ with and without AK information. Results show that OMI and CMAQ NO2 VCDs show the best agreement when both downscaling and AK methods are applied, with the correlation coefficient R = 0.89. This study suggests that satellite footprint sizes might have a considerable effect on the measurement of fine-scale urban NO2 plumes. The impact of satellite footprint resolution should be considered when using satellite observations in emission policy making, and the new downscaling approach can provide a reference uncertainty for the use of satellite NO2 measurements over most cities.

Short summary
Fair comparison between satellite- and modeled urban NO2 column densities is important in emission inventory evaluation and regulation policy making. This study focuses on the impact of satellite footprint resolution geometry. Since OMI NO2 pixels are too coarse to resolve fine-scale urban plumes, it may cause 20–30 % bias over major cities. We introduce approaches to adjust spatial and vertical structure (downscaling & averaging kernel), and demonstrate improved agreement between sat. and model.