Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Jonathan D. Kahl

Committee Members

Kyle L. Swanson, Sergey V. Kravtsov, Jugal K. Ghorai, Vincent E. Larson


Aerosol, Air Pollution, AOD, MODIS, Remote Sensing, Trajectories


Suspended particulate matter (aerosols) with aerodynamic diameters less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) has negative effects on human health, plays an important role in climate change and also causes the corrosion of structures by acid deposition. Accurate estimates of PM2.5 concentrations are thus relevant in air quality, epidemiology, cloud microphysics and climate forcing studies. Aerosol optical depth (AOD) retrieved by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite instrument has been used as an empirical predictor to estimate ground-level concentrations of PM2.5. These estimates usually have large uncertainties and errors. The main objective of this work is to assess the value of using upwind (Lagrangian) MODIS-AOD as predictors in empirical models of PM2.5.

The upwind locations of the Lagrangian AOD were estimated using modeled backward air trajectories. Since the specification of an arrival elevation is somewhat arbitrary, trajectories were calculated to arrive at four different elevations at ten measurement sites within the continental United States. A systematic examination revealed trajectory model calculations to be sensitive to starting elevation. With a 500 m difference in starting elevation, the 48-hr mean horizontal separation of trajectory endpoints was 326 km. When the difference in starting elevation was doubled and tripled to 1000 m and 1500m, the mean horizontal separation of trajectory endpoints approximately doubled and tripled to 627 km and 886 km, respectively. A seasonal dependence of this sensitivity was also found: the smallest mean horizontal separation of trajectory endpoints was exhibited during the summer and the largest separations during the winter.

A daily average AOD product was generated and coupled to the trajectory model in order to determine AOD values upwind of the measurement sites during the period 2003-2007. Empirical models that included in situ AOD and upwind AOD as predictors of PM2.5 were generated by multivariate linear regressions using the least squares method. The multivariate models showed improved performance over the single variable regression (PM2.5 and in situ AOD) models. The statistical significance of the improvement of the multivariate models over the single variable regression models was tested using the extra sum of squares principle. In many cases, even when the R-squared was high for the multivariate models, the improvement over the single models was not statistically significant.

The R-squared of these multivariate models varied with respect to seasons, with the best performance occurring during the summer months. A set of seasonal categorical variables was included in the regressions to exploit this variability. The multivariate regression models that included these categorical seasonal variables performed better than the models that didn't account for seasonal variability. Furthermore, 71% of these regressions exhibited improvement over the single variable models that was statistically significant at a 95% confidence level.