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C. A. Randles, A. M. da Silva, V. Buchard, P. R. Colarco, A. Darmenov, R. Govindaraju, A. Smirnov, B. Holben, R. Ferrare, J. Hair, Y. Shinozuka, and C. J. Flynn


The Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), updates NASA’s previous satellite-era (1980 onward) reanalysis system to include additional observations and improvements to the Goddard Earth Observing System, version 5 (GEOS-5), Earth system model. As a major step toward a full Integrated Earth Systems Analysis (IESA), in addition to meteorological observations, MERRA-2 now includes assimilation of aerosol optical depth (AOD) from various ground- and space-based remote sensing platforms. Here, in the first of a pair of studies, the MERRA-2 aerosol assimilation is documented, including a description of the prognostic model (GEOS-5 coupled to the GOCART aerosol module), aerosol emissions, and the quality control of ingested observations. Initial validation and evaluation of the analyzed AOD fields are provided using independent observations from ground, aircraft, and shipborne instruments. The positive impact of the AOD assimilation on simulated aerosols is demonstrated by comparing MERRA-2 aerosol fields to an identical control simulation that does not include AOD assimilation. After showing the AOD evaluation, this paper takes a first look at aerosol–climate interactions by examining the shortwave, clear-sky aerosol direct radiative effect. The companion paper (Part II) evaluates and validates available MERRA-2 aerosol properties not directly impacted by the AOD assimilation (e.g., aerosol vertical distribution and absorption). Importantly, while highlighting the skill of the MERRA-2 aerosol assimilation products, both studies point out caveats that must be considered when using this new reanalysis product for future studies of aerosols and their interactions with weather and climate.

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V. Buchard, C. A. Randles, A. M. da Silva, A. Darmenov, P. R. Colarco, R. Govindaraju, R. Ferrare, J. Hair, A. J. Beyersdorf, L. D. Ziemba, and H. Yu


The Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), is NASA’s latest reanalysis for the satellite era (1980 onward) using the Goddard Earth Observing System, version 5 (GEOS-5), Earth system model. MERRA-2 provides several improvements over its predecessor (MERRA-1), including aerosol assimilation for the entire period. MERRA-2 assimilates bias-corrected aerosol optical depth (AOD) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments. Additionally, MERRA-2 assimilates (non bias corrected) AOD from the Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer over bright surfaces and AOD from Aerosol Robotic Network sunphotometer stations. This paper, the second of a pair, summarizes the efforts to assess the quality of the MERRA-2 aerosol products. First, MERRA-2 aerosols are evaluated using independent observations. It is shown that the MERRA-2 absorption aerosol optical depth (AAOD) and ultraviolet aerosol index (AI) compare well with Ozone Monitoring Instrument observations. Next, aerosol vertical structure and surface fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are evaluated using available satellite, aircraft, and ground-based observations. While MERRA-2 generally compares well to these observations, the assimilation cannot correct for all deficiencies in the model (e.g., missing emissions). Such deficiencies can explain many of the biases with observations. Finally, a focus is placed on several major aerosol events to illustrate successes and weaknesses of the AOD assimilation: the Mount Pinatubo eruption, a Saharan dust transport episode, the California Rim Fire, and an extreme pollution event over China. The article concludes with a summary that points to best practices for using the MERRA-2 aerosol reanalysis in future studies.

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