The distribution and transport of aerosol emitted to the lower troposphere is governed by the height of the planetary boundary layer (PBL), which limits the dilution of pollutants and influences boundary-layer convection. Because radiative heating and cooling of the surface strongly affect the PBL top height, it follows diurnal and seasonal cycles and may vary by hundreds of meters over a 24-hour period.
The cap the PBL imposes on low-level aerosol transport makes aerosol concentration an effective proxy for PBL height: the top of the PBL is marked by a rapid transition from polluted, well-mixed boundary-layer air to the cleaner, more stratified free troposphere. Micropulse lidar (MPL) can provide much higher temporal resolution than radiosonde and better vertical resolution than infrared spectrometer (AERI), but PBL heights from all three instruments at the ARM SGP site are compared to one another for validation. If there is agreement among them, the higher-resolution remote sensing-derived PBL heights can accurately fill in the gaps left by the low frequency of radiosonde launches, and thus improve model parameterizations and our understanding of boundary-layer processes.