Satellite-retrieved aerosol optical depth (AOD) has become an important predictor of ground-level particulate matter (PM) and greatly empowered air pollution research worldwide. We evaluated the AOD parameters included in the Collection 6 aerosol product of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) for two key factors affecting their applications in air quality research—coverage and accuracy—over the continental US. For the high confidence retrievals (QAC 3), the 10 km DB-DT combined AOD has the best coverage nationwide (29.7% of the days in a year in any given 12 km grid cell). While the Eastern US generally had more successful AOD retrievals, the highest spatial coverage of AOD parameters were found in California (>55%) and other vegetated parts of the Western US. If lower QAC retrievals were included, the coverage of the 10 km DB AOD was dramatically increased to 49.6%. In the Eastern US, the QAC 3 retrievals of all four AOD parameters are highly correlated with AERONET observations (correlation coefficients between 0.80 and 0.92). In the Western US, positive retrieval errors existed in all MODIS AOD parameters, resulting in lower correlations with AERONET. AOD retrieval errors showed significant dependence on flight geometry, land cover type, and weather conditions. To ensure appropriate use of these AOD values, air quality researchers should carefully balance the needs for coverage and accuracy, and develop additional data screening criteria based on their study design.
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