Geostationary satellites are increasingly used for the detection and tracking of atmospheric aerosols and, in particular, of the aerosol optical depth (AOD). The main advantage of these spaceborne platforms in comparison with polar orbiting satellites is their capability to observe the same region of the Earth several times per day with varying geometry. This provides a wealth of information that makes aerosol remote sensing possible when combined with the multi-spectral capabilities of the on-board imagers. Nonetheless, the suitability of geostationary observations for AOD retrieval may vary significantly depending on their spatial, spectral, and temporal characteristics. In this work, the potential of geostationary satellites was assessed based on the concept of critical surface albedo (CSA). CSA is linked to the sensitivity of each spaceborne observation to the aerosol signal, as it is defined as the value of surface albedo for which a varying AOD does not alter the satellite measurement. In this study, the sensitivity to aerosols was determined by estimating the difference between the surface albedo of the observed surface and the corresponding CSA (referred to as dCSA). The values of dCSA were calculated for one year of observations from the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) spacecraft, based on radiative transfer simulations and information on the satellite acquisition geometry and the properties of the observed surface and aerosols. Different spectral channels from MSG and the future Meteosat Third Generation-Imager were used to study their distinct capabilities for aerosol remote sensing. Results highlight the significant but varying potential of geostationary observations across the observed Earth disk and for different time scales (i.e., diurnal, seasonal, and yearly). For example, the capability of sensing multiples times during the day is revealed to be a notable strength. Indeed, the value of dCSA often fluctuates significantly for a given day, which makes some instants of time more suitable for aerosol retrieval than others. This study determines these instants of time as well as the seasons and the sensing wavelengths that increase the chances for aerosol remote sensing thanks to the variations of dCSA. The outcomes of this work can be used for the development and refinement of AOD retrieval algorithms through the use of the concept of CSA. Furthermore, results can be extrapolated to other present-day geostationary satellites such as Himawari-8/9 and GOES-16/17.
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