Aerosols are involved in a complex set of processes that operate across many spatial and temporal scales. Understanding these processes, and ensuring their accurate representation in models of transport, radiation transfer, and climate, requires knowledge of aerosol physical, chemical, and optical properties and the distributions of these properties in space and time. To derive aerosol climate forcing, aerosol optical and microphysical properties and their spatial and temporal distributions, and aerosol interactions with clouds, need to be understood. Such data are also required in conjunction with size-resolved chemical composition in order to evaluate chemical transport models and to distinguish natural and anthropogenic forcing. Other basic parameters needed for modeling the radiative influences of aerosols are surface reflectivity and three-dimensional cloud fields. This large suite of parameters mandates an integrated observing and modeling system of commensurate scope. The Progressive Aerosol Retrieval and Assimilation Global Observing Network (PARAGON) concept, designed to meet this requirement, is motivated by the need to understand climate system sensitivity to changes in atmospheric constituents, to reduce climate model uncertainties, and to analyze diverse collections of data pertaining to aerosols. This paper highlights several challenges resulting from the complexity of the problem. Approaches for dealing with them are offered in the set of companion papers.

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California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

NOAA Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York

NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia