We outline the methodology of interpreting channels 1 and 2 Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) radiance data over the oceans and describe a detailed analysis of the sensitivity of monthly averages of retrieved aerosol parameters to the assumptions made in different retrieval algorithms. The analysis is based on using real AVHRR data and exploiting accurate numerical techniques for computing single and multiple scattering and spectral absorption of light in the vertically inhomogeneous atmosphere–ocean system. We show that two-channel algorithms can be expected to provide significantly more accurate and less biased retrievals of the aerosol optical thickness than one-channel algorithms and that imperfect cloud screening and calibration uncertainties are by far the largest sources of errors in the retrieved aerosol parameters. Both underestimating and overestimating aerosol absorption as well as the potentially strong variability of the real part of the aerosol refractive index may lead to regional and/or seasonal biases in optical-thickness retrievals. The Ångström exponent appears to be the aerosol size characteristic that is least sensitive to the choice of aerosol model and should be retrieved along with optical thickness as the second aerosol parameter.
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