A majority of the scene radiance detected at satellite altitudes can be due to atmospheric scattering by highly variable concentrations, compositions, and size distributions of aerosols. These same aerosols are implicated in the anomalous enlargement of laser beam images and can influence effective use of laser beacons as navigational aids, photometric standards, or probes of boundary-layer air masses. A rapid field method for aerosol particle collection and spectral analysis now allows determination of such aerosol sources, strengths, and sinks within the atmosphere, and can aid in providing required "ground-truth" for truly remote identification of aerosol characteristics. Specific illustrations of the striking changes of aerosol composition are provided for continental, marine, and coastal regions, highlighting the unique enrichment of nitrate particulates in areas of coastal upwelling. Spectra characteristic of these differing atmospheric particulates, as collected in numerous field studies, are included for the mid-infrared range. A special feature of these data is their direct revelation of chemical species of covalently bound elements in a completely nondestructive manner.