Correcting measurement error in satellite aerosol optical depth with machine learning for modeling PM2.5 in the Northeastern USA

Allan C. Just, Margherita M. De Carli, Alexandra Shtein, Michael Dorman, Alexei Lyapustin, Itai Kloog

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Satellite-derived estimates of aerosol optical depth (AOD) are key predictors in particulate air pollution models. The multi-step retrieval algorithms that estimate AOD also produce quality control variables but these have not been systematically used to address the measurement error in AOD. We compare three machine-learning methods: random forests, gradient boosting, and extreme gradient boosting (XGBoost) to characterize and correct measurement error in the Multi-Angle Implementation of Atmospheric Correction (MAIAC) 1 × 1 km AOD product for Aqua and Terra satellites across the Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic USA versus collocated measures from 79 ground-based AERONET stations over 14 years. Models included 52 quality control, land use, meteorology, and spatially-derived features. Variable importance measures suggest relative azimuth, AOD uncertainty, and the AOD difference in 30-210 km moving windows are among the most important features for predicting measurement error. XGBoost outperformed the other machine-learning approaches, decreasing the root mean squared error in withheld testing data by 43% and 44% for Aqua and Terra. After correction using XGBoost, the correlation of collocated AOD and daily PM2.5 monitors across the region increased by 10 and 9 percentage points for Aqua and Terra. We demonstrate how machine learning with quality control and spatial features substantially improves satellite-derived AOD products for air pollution modeling.

Original languageEnglish
Article number803
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2018


  • Aerosol optical depth (AOD)
  • Air pollution
  • Gradient boosting
  • Machine learning
  • Measurement error
  • PM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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