Following the recent development of a ground-based prototype quantum cascade laser heterodyne radiometer operating in the midinfrared, atmospheric ozone profile retrievals from a solar occultation measurement campaign performed at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on 21 September 2006 are presented. Retrieval is based on the optimal estimation method. High resolution atmospheric spectra recorded by the laser heterodyne radiometer and covering a microwindow optimized for atmospheric ozone measurements were used as measurement vectors. As part of the evaluation of this novel instrument, a comprehensive analysis of the retrievals is presented, demonstrating the high potential of quantum cascade laser heterodyne radiometry for atmospheric sounding. Vertical resolutions of 2 km near the ground and about 3 km in the stratosphere were obtained. The information content of the retrieval was found to be up to 48 bits, which is much higher than any other passive ground-based instrument. Frequency mismatches of several absorption peaks between the forward model and experimental spectra have been observed and significantly contribute to the retrieval noise error in the upper-troposphere lower-stratosphere region. Retrieved ozone vertical profiles were compared to ozonesonde data recorded at similar latitudes. The agreement is generally excellent except for the 20 to 25 km peak in ozone concentration, where ozonesonde data were found to be 20% lower than the amount retrieved from the laser heterodyne radiometer spectra. Quantum cascade laser based heterodyne radiometry in the midinfrared has been demonstrated to provide high spectral resolution and unprecedented vertical resolution for a passive sounder in a highly compact and mechanically simple package.
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