Mineral dust optical properties for remote sensing and global modeling: A review

Author/Creator ORCID





Citation of Original Publication

Castellanos, Patricia, Peter Colarco, W. Reed Espinosa, Scott D. Guzewich, Robert C. Levy, Ron L. Miller, Mian Chin, et al. “Mineral Dust Optical Properties for Remote Sensing and Global Modeling: A Review.” Remote Sensing of Environment 303 (March 15, 2024): 113982. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2023.113982.


This work was written as part of one of the author's official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under U.S. Law.
Public Domain Mark 1.0 Universal



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 minerology 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 assume a globally uniform, size-invariant refractive index. Although no Martian dust samples have yet been returned to Earth, remote sensing observations indicate that Martian dust is globally homogenous in composition, and a single spectral refractive index assumption has been widely adopted to represent Martian dust. The lack of comprehensive, statistically representative measurements of dust particle microphysical properties (size distribution, morphology, complex index of refraction spectra, internal structure heterogeneity), and the resulting optical properties, limits our ability to verify the fidelity of these assumptions. A chain of measurements is needed, ranging from characterizing individual dust mineralogy components (e.g., pure hematite and goethite) to in situ sampling of complex atmospheric aerosol mixtures. Such results could be applied to both remote sensing retrievals that characterize the optical properties of the total aerosol burden in the atmosphere from total radiance measurements, and to global models that represent the total aerosol burden in the atmosphere by building it up from the balance of individual aerosol sources and sinks.