When strongly absorbing aerosols are present in the atmosphere, the usual two-step procedure of processing ocean color data—(1) atmospheric correction to provide the water-leaving reflectance (ρw), followed by (2) relating ρw to the water constituents—fails and simultaneous estimation of the ocean and aerosol optical properties is necessary. We explore the efficacy of using a simple model of the aerosol—a Junge power-law size distribution consisting of homogeneous spheres with arbitrary refractive index—in a nonlinear optimization procedure for estimating the relevant oceanic and atmospheric parameters for case 1 waters. Using simulated test data generated from more realistic aerosol size distributions (sums of log-normally distributed components with different compositions), we show that the ocean’s pigment concentration (C) can be retrieved with good accuracy in the presence of weakly or strongly absorbing aerosols. However, because of significant differences in the scattering phase functions for the test and power-law distributions, large error is possible in the estimate of the aerosol optical thickness. The positive result for C suggests that the detailed shape of the aerosol-scattering phase function is not relevant to the atmospheric correction of ocean color sensors. The relevant parameters are the aerosol single-scattering albedo and the spectral variation of the aerosol optical depth. We argue that the assumption of aerosol sphericity should not restrict the validity of the algorithm and suggest an avenue for including colored aerosols, e.g., wind-blown dust, in the procedure. A significant advantage of the new approach is that realistic multicomponent aerosol models are not required for the retrieval of C.
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