1Kuopio Unit, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Kuopio, Finland
2Laboratory of Atmospheric Physics, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece
3National Observatory of Athens, Athens, Greece
4Climate Change Unit, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland
5Department of Applied Physics, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland
Abstract. Pyranometer measurements of the solar surface radiation (SSR) are available at many locations worldwide, often as long time series covering several decades into the past. These data constitute a potential source of information on the atmospheric aerosol load. Here, we present a method for estimating the aerosol optical depth (AOD) using pyranometer measurements of the SSR together with total water vapor column information. The method, which is based on radiative transfer simulations, was developed and tested using recent data from Thessaloniki, Greece. The effective AOD calculated using this method was found to agree well with co-located AERONET measurements, exhibiting a correlation coefficient of 0.9 with 2/3 of the data found within ±20% or ±0.05 of the AERONET AOD. This is similar to the performance of current satellite aerosol methods. Differences in the AOD as compared to AERONET can be explained by variations in the aerosol properties of the atmosphere that are not accounted for in the idealized settings used in the radiative transfer simulations, such as variations in the single scattering albedo and Ångström exponent. Furthermore, the method is sensitive to calibration offsets between the radiative transfer simulations and the pyranometer SSR. The method provides an opportunity of extending our knowledge of the atmospheric aerosol load to locations and times not covered by dedicated aerosol measurements.