Recent research highlights the promise of remotely-sensed aerosol optical depth (AOD) as a proxy for ground-level PM2.5. Particular interest lies in the information on spatial heterogeneity potentially provided by AOD, with important application to estimating and monitoring pollution exposure for public health purposes. Given the temporal and spatio-temporal correlations reported between AOD and PM2.5 , it is tempting to interpret the spatial patterns in AOD as reflecting patterns in PM2.5 . Here we find only limited spatial associations of AOD from three satellite retrievals with PM2.5 over the eastern U.S. at the daily and yearly levels in 2004. We then use statistical modeling to show that the patterns in monthly average AOD poorly reflect patterns in PM2.5 because of systematic, spatially-correlated error in AOD as a proxy for PM2.5 . Furthermore, when we include AOD as a predictor of monthly PM2.5 in a statistical prediction model, AOD provides little additional information to improve predictions of PM2.5 when included in a model that already accounts for land use, emission sources, meteorology and regional variability. These results suggest caution in using spatial variation in AOD to stand in for spatial variation in ground-level PM2.5 in epidemiological analyses and indicate that when PM2.5 monitoring is available, careful statistical modeling outperforms the use of AOD.


Multivariate Analysis | Statistical Models