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.
Keywords: AERONET; MAIAC; MODIS; PM2.5; aerosol optical depth; air pollution; gradient boosting; machine learning; measurement error.