Characterizing the way satellite-based aerosol statistics change near clouds is important for better understanding both aerosol-cloud interactions and aerosol direct radiative forcing. This study focuses on the question of whether the observed near-cloud increases in aerosol optical thickness and particle size may be explained by a combination of two factors: (i) Near-cloud data coming from areas with higher cloud fractions than far-from-cloud data and (ii) Cloud fraction being correlated with aerosol optical thickness and particle size. This question is addressed through a statistical analysis of aerosol parameters included in the MODIS (MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) ocean color product. Results from ten Septembers (2002–2011) over part of the northeast Atlantic Ocean confirm that the combination of these two factors working together explains a significant but not dominant part (in our case, 15%–30%) of mean optical thickness changes near clouds. Overall, the findings show that cloud fraction plays a large role in shaping the way aerosol statistics change with distance to clouds. This implies that both cloud fraction and distance to clouds are important to consider when aerosol-cloud interactions or aerosol direct radiative effects are examined in satellite or modeling studies.
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