Remote sensing of atmospheric optical depth using a smartphone sun photometer

Tingting Cao, Jonathan E. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In recent years, smart phones have been explored for making a variety of mobile measurements. Smart phones feature many advanced sensors such as cameras, GPS capability, and accelerometers within a handheld device that is portable, inexpensive, and consistently located with an end user. In this work, a smartphone was used as a sun photometer for the remote sensing of atmospheric optical depth. The top-of-the-atmosphere (TOA) irradiance was estimated through the construction of Langley plots on days when the sky was cloudless and clear. Changes in optical depth were monitored on a different day when clouds intermittently blocked the sun. The device demonstrated a measurement precision of 1.2% relative standard deviation for replicate photograph measurements (38 trials, 134 datum). However, when the accuracy of the method was assessed through using optical filters of known transmittance, a more substantial uncertainty was apparent in the data. Roughly 95% of replicate smart phone measured transmittances are expected to lie within 611.6% of the true transmittance value. This uncertainty in transmission corresponds to an optical depth of approx. 60.12-0.13 suggesting the smartphone sun photometer would be useful only in polluted areas that experience significant optical depths. The device can be used as a tool in the classroom to present how aerosols and gases effect atmospheric transmission. If improvements in measurement precision can be achieved, future work may allow monitoring networks to be developed in which citizen scientists submit acquired data from a variety of locations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere84119
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 8 2014


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