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Basics of Atmospheric Radiation


Any type of elecromagnetic wave propagating through the atmosphere is affected by the
aerosols because of their interaction with radiation.
The interactions fall into three categories (i) scattering (ii) absorption and (iii) emission.
Scattering is the result of interaction between light and particualate matter and occurs at
all wavelengths (spectrally not selective) in the electromagnetic spectrum.
Any material whose refractive index is different from that of the surrounding medium
(optically inhomogeneous) can scatter radiation. During scattering the aerosols abstracts
energy from the incident wave and re-radiate into the total solid angle centered around
the particle.
The re-distribution of incident energy during scattering depends strongly on the ratio of
particle size to wavelength of the incident wave. If the particle is isotropic, the scattering
pattern is symmetric about the direction of incident wave.
Small particles with sizes very small compared to the wavelength of incident radiation,
scatter almost equally into both the forward and backward direction.
As the particle size becomes comparable with the wavelength of incident radiation more
energy is scattered in the forward direction and secondary maxima and minima appear at
various angles. However the overall scattering increases with the increase in size of the
particle and ultimately depends on the ratio of refractive index of the particle relative to
that of the surrounding medium.
When scatterers are very small compared to the wavelength of incident radiation (r <
/10), the scattered intensity on both forward and backward directions are equal. This
type of scattering is called Rayleigh scattering. In scattering of this type, the scattered
intensity varies inversely as the fourth power of wavelength. Air molecules are the
principal Rayleigh scatterers in the atmosphere.
For larger particles (r > ), the angular distribution of scattered intensity becomes more
complex with more energy scattered in the forward direction. This type of scattering is
called Mie scattering.
In Rayleigh and Mie scattering, both the scattered and incident radiation have the same
wavelength and hence this two scattering process are called elastic scattering.
Another type of scattering in which the scattered energy contains wavelengths other than
incident wavelength (which indicates energy level changes in the molecules) are called
Raman scattering.
In the real atmospherte the particles and air molecules are randomly distributed and are
separated by distances large compared to their sizes. So each particle scatter
independently and there will not be any coherent phase relationship between the
separately scatterd waves. In a hypothetical case in which the particles are arranged
closely (as in a turbid atmosphere) and at equal distance from each other (as in a crystal),
then coherence between separately scattered waves are sufficient to produce maxima
and minima at certain angles.
Such cases usually never met in real atmosphere. In the actual case of scattering in the
atmosphere there are chances that the scattered radiation from one particle may have
scatterd again by other particles. This is called multiple scattering. Multiple scattering
influences are more in turbid atmospheres.

Difference Between Scattering and Absorption

Both scattering and absorption remove flux from an incident wave. During scattering
process flux is not lost from the incident beam but is redistributed over the total solid
angle centered arround the scatterer and it does not change the internal energy states
(rotational, vibrational and electronic) of the molecules.
Absorption changes the internal energy states of the molecules and when the molecules
are de-exited to a lower level, the difference in energy is levels is released and this
process is called emission.
Absorption is spectrally selective and the process is discrete because of quantisation.
Absorption of radiation depends on the imaginary part of refractive index of aerosols
which in turn depends on the chemical composition.
The scattering and absorption jointly called extinction.
Rayleigh Scattering

The simplest and most important example of a physical law of light scattering.
Rayleigh scattering theory could explain the blue colour of the sky.

Consider a small homogeneous, isotropic spherical particle whose radius is much

smaller than the wavelength of the incident radiation. The incident radiation produces
an electric field E0, called applied field. Since the scatterers are very small compared
to the wavelength, the applied field generates a dipole configuration on it.
The electric field of the particle caused by the electric dipole, modifies the applied
field. Let E be the combined field, i.e., the applied field plus the particles own field.
If p0 is the induced dipole moment, then

p 0 = E 0
where is the polarisability of the small particle. The dimension of E0 is charge
per area and p0 is charge times length and hence has dimension of volume.
The applied field E0 generates oscillation of an electric dipole in fixed direction.
The oscillating dipole, in turn, produces a plane polarised elecro magnetic wave, the
scattered wave.
Let r be the distance between the dipole and the observation point, the angle
between the scattered dipole moment p and the direction of observation, c the velocity
of light.

According the classical electromagnetic solution given by Hertz, the scattered

electric filed is proportional to the acceleration of the scattered dipole moment and
sin and inversely proportional to the distance r.

1 1 2 p
E= 2 sin
c r t 2
In an oscillating periodic field, the scattered dipole moment can be written in
terms of induced dipole moment as
p = p 0 e ikr ( r ct )

where k is the wave number, and kc = is the circular frequency.

By combining the two equations,

e ik ( r ct ) 2
E = E0 k sin

Consider the scattering by air molecules in the atmosphere.

Let the plan defined by the directions of incident and scattered waves be the
reference plane (plane of scattering).
Since any elctric vector may be arbitrarily decomposed into orthogonal
components, two components, perpendicular (Er) and parallel (El) to the scattering plane
are considered here.

Assuming air molecules to be homogeneous, isotropic spherical particles,

e ik ( r ct ) 2
E r = E0 r k sin 1

e ik ( r ct ) 2
El = E 0 l k sin 2

From the scattering geometry, it can be seen that

1 = /2
2 = / 2

where is defined as the scattering angle, which is the angle between the incident and
scattered waves.
Here 1 is always 90 because the scattered dipole moment in the r direction is normal to
the scattering plane.
The corresponding intensities (per unit solid angle ) is given by,

1 c
I0 =

1 c

Combining the two equations,

I r = I or k 4 2 / r 2
I l = I ol k 4 2 / r 2 cos 2 / r 2

where Ir and Il are the polarised intensity components perpendicular and parallel to the
plane containing incident and scattered waves i.e., plane of scattering.
The total scattered intensity of unpolarised sun light incident on a molecules in
the direction is then

I = I r + I l = ( I or + I ol cos 2 )k 4 2 / r 2

For unpolarised sunlight,

I or = I ol = I 0 / 2

k = 2 /
I 0 2 2 1 + cos 2

I = 2
r 2

This is the formula derived by Rayleigh.

The following can be noted from the formula.
The intensity scattered by a molecule for unpolarised sun light is
directly proportional to the incident intensity I0
inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the molecule and the
point of observation.
inversely proportional to the fourth power of wavelength.
It also depends on the polarisability and the scattering angle.

Blue Color of Sky

The scattered intensity depends on the wavelength of incident light and the index of
refraction of air molecules contained in the polarisability term.
Index of refraction is wavelength dependent.

I ~ 4

The inverse dependence of the scattered intensity on the wavelength to the power four
is a direct consequence of the theory of Rayleigh scattering and it is the foundation
for the explanation of the blue colour of the sky.

A large portion of the solar energy is contained in the visible spectrum from blue
(~0.425 m) to red (~0.65 m).
According the equation for intensity, the blue light scatters about 5.5 times more than
red light.
It is also apparent that the (1/4) dependence causes more blue light to be scattered
than the red, green, yellow etc.
Thus when viewed from a distance the sky appears blue.
As the sun approaches horizon (at sunrise or sunset), sun light travels through much
more distance compared to zenith direction and more and more blue is scattered out
of the beam and red colour dominates.

Why not violet?

Since violet light (~0.405 m) has a shorter wavelength than the blue, why then
doesn't the sky appear violet?
This is because the energy contained in the violet spectrum is much smaller than that
contained in the blue spectrum and also human eye has a much lower response to the
violet colour.

Phase Function, Scattering Cross section and polarisability

The intensity of scattered light by a molecule depends on the polarisation

characteristics of the incident wave.
For vertically polarised incident light, the scattered intensity is independent of the
direction in the scattering plane. In this case scattering is isotropic.
For horizontally polarised incident light, the scattered intensity is a function of cos2.
When the incident light is un polarised such as sun light, the scattered intensity
depends on (1+ cos2).
The scattering of un polarised light has a maxima in the forward (0) direction and
backward (180) direction and minima in the side directions (90 and 270).

Phase function describes the angular distribution of scattered energy.

P(cos )

0 0
sin dd = 1

The phase function for Rayleigh scattering is given by,

P (cos ) = (1 + cos 2 )
Incorporating the definition of phase function in the equation for intensity,

I 0 2 128 5 P( )
I ( ) = 2
r 34 4

The scattered flux f can be evaluated by integrating I().

Angular Scattering Cross Section

The angular scattering cross section of a particle is the area of the incident wave
such that the power flowing across it is equal to the power scattered per unit solid angle
at angle . The total scattering cross section is the integral over the total solid angle and
is given by,

sc = ( ) d

Angular scattering coefficient for a poly-dispersion is given by,

( ) = ( ) n(r) dr

where n(r) is the number of aerosols per unit volume per radius range dr centered around r.

The total scattering coefficient sc is the integral of () over the total solid angle,
sc = ( ) d

These parameters can be defined for absorption and extinction in the same way.
The efficiency factor for scattering, absorption and extinction can be defined as the
ratio of the corresponding cross section to geometric cross section (r2) of the aerosols.

Q sc =
Qext = Q sca + Qabs
The total scattering coefficient can be written in terms of Qsc as,
= r 2 Q sc n(r) dr

ab and ext can be written in the same way.

Single scattering albedo () defines the effective ness of scattering relative to

sc + ab
Phase function P() is defined as the energy scattered per unit solid angle in a given
direction to the average energy in all directions can be written as,

( )
P( ) =
sc /4

From the definition, it is clear that,

4 P( ) d = 1

Assymetry factor (g()) is the mean value of cos() (where is the scattering angle) over
the total solid angle weigted by the phase function.

cos( ) P( , ) d( cos )
g( ) = 0

P( , ) d( cos )

Optical depth () is defined as the integrated extinction coefficient over a vertical column of
unit cross section.
= r
n=0 r= r1
Qext n(r, h) dr dh

where r1 and r2 are the lower and upper radii limits of aerosol size distributuin, n(r,h) is the
number of aerosols per unit volume per dr centered arround r.
Integration over the vertical column yields
= r 2 Qext nc (r) dr

nc (r) = n(r, h) dh

where nc(r) is the number of aerosols in a vertical column of unit cross section per radius
range dr centred around r.

Representation of Polarised Light

Assuming that an electromagnetic wave propagates in the z-direction with a
propagation constant k (2/) and an angular frequency and amplitudes and phases for
the electric field in the parallel and perpendicular directions are al, ar and l and r

El = a l e il e ikz +it

Er = ar e ir e ikz +it

where El and Er are complex, oscillating functions. Let =kz-t,

El = al cos( + l )
Er = ar cos( + r )

El / al = cos cos l sin sin l

Er / ar = cos cos r sin sin r

Rearranging terms we get,

( El / al ) 2 + ( Er / ar ) 2 2( El / al )( Er / ar ) cos = sin 2
where =r-l is the phase difference.
Equation represents the equation of a conic.

The associated determinant is

sin 2
2 2
al a r

Thus the equation represents an ellipse or the light is elliptically polarised.

If =m (m=0, 1, 2, .), then

El Er
= 0
al a r

El E
= r
al ar

This equation represents two lines perpendicular to each other. This represents
linearly polarised wave.
If =m/2 (m=1, 2,.) and al=ar=a, we have

El + E r = a 2
2 2

This equation describes a circle and the wave in this case is circularly polarised.
The polarisation is called right handed when sin > 0 where as when sin < 0 it is
called left handed.
Right handed and left handed means the direction of rotation of the fingers when
thump is pointed in the direction of propagation.

Stokes Parameters
Three independent parameters al, ar, and are needed. It is more convenient to
use the parameters of same dimension. This can be achieved by using a set of four
quantities called Stokes Parameters. Since intensity is proportional to the absolute square
of the electric field,

I = E l El + E r E r
* *

Q = El El Er Er
* *

U = El Er + Er El
* *

V = i ( El Er Er El )
* *

where asterisk denotes the complex conjugate value. I, Q, U and V respectively

give intensity, degree of polarisation, the plane of polarisation and the ellipticity of the
electromagnetic wave at each point and in any direction. They are real quantities and

I 2 = Q2 + U 2 +V 2


I = al + a r
2 2

Q = al a r
2 2

U = 2al a r cos

V = 2al ar sin
Scattering Phase Matrix

On the basis of Stokes Parameters, we can define the incident and scattered
electric vectors in terms of intensity components. The subscript 0 denotes the incident
I I 0
= M 0
U U 0

V V0


M 11 =
2k r 2
[S ( )S
1 1
( ) + S 2 ( ) S 2 ( )
M 12 =
2 2
2k r
S 2 ( ) S 2 ( ) S1 ( ) S1 ( )
* *
M 33 =
2 2
2k r
S 2 ( ) S1 ( ) + S1 ( ) S2 ( )
* *
M 34 =
2 2
2k r
S1 ( ) S 2 ( ) S 2 ( ) S1 ( )
* *

M is called transformation matrix of a single sphere.

M() = C P()

Where P() is called the scattering phase matrix.


Aerosol: Fine solid or liquid particles in the atmosphere, such as smoke, fog, dust or mist.

Albedo: The fraction of solar radiation that is reflected by a surface (such as the earth).

Atmospheric Profile: A description of the atmosphere, including the pressure,

temperature, water content, and ozone at every altitude.

Filter Function: The response function of an instrument at each wavelength.

Irradiance: Radiant flux density incident on a surface. Watts per square meter (W m-2).

Optical Depth: A measure of the number of scattering events that occur between a source
of light and the observer.

Radiance: The flux density of radiant energy per unit solid angle and per unit area. Watts
per square meter per steradian. (W/m2/str).

Radiant Energy: The energy of electromagnetic waves (light). (Q, Joules).

Radiant Flux: The rate at which radiant energy is transmitted in waves. (Watts). (dQ/dt).

Solar Constant: The quantity of solar energy normally received at the outer layer of the
earth's atmosphere.

Spectral Irradiance: The radiant flux density incident on a surface, resolved spectrally.

Spectral Radiance: The radiant flux density per unit solid angle, resolved spectrally.

Plank's law

E = nh

2 h 3
B (T ) = 2 h / KT
c (e 1)

2hc 2
B (T ) =
5 (e hc / KT 1)

Stefan-Boltzman Law

B(T ) = B (T )d

B(T ) = T 4

= 5.67 x 10-5 erg cm-2 deg-4

Wien's Displacement Law

B (T )

m = a / T
= A

= A = 1
= A < 1

Radiative Transfer Equation

dI = k I ds

dI = j ds

dI = k I ds + j ds

J j / k

= I + J
k ds

= I
k ds

I ( s1 ) = I (0) exp k ds )
dI ( z; , )
cos = I ( z; , ) + J ( z; , )

= kdz

dI ( ; , )
= I ( ; , ) + J ( ; , )

This is the basic equation for the radiation transfer in a plane parallel atmosphere.

The integration from to =1, the upward intensity (>0) at level can be evaluated.

The integration from =0 to , the downward intensity (<0) at level can be evaluated.

Computation of Heating Rates

The importance of the absorption of solar radiation by various gases is the

generation of heating in the atmosphere.

Consider a plane parallel absorbing and scattering atmosphere illuminated by the

solar spectral irradiance F0 with a solar zenith angle of 0. The downward flux density
normal to the top of the atmosphere is F0 cos0. Let the differntial thickness within the
atmosphere is z, and let the spectral upward and downward flux densities centered at
wavelength be denoted by F and F respectively.
The net flux density (downward) at height z is given by,
F(z) = F - F
The net flux density decreases from upper levels progressively to lower levels. The
loss of net flux density is given by,
F(z) = F(z) - F(z+z)
On the basis of the energy conservation principle, the absorbed radiant energy has to
be used to heat the layer. Thus the heating experienced by a layer of air due to radiation
transfer can be expressed in terms of rate of temperature changes.

F ( z ) = C p z

where is the air density in the layer, Cp the specific heat at constant pressure and t is the
time. The heating rate for a differential layer z is,

T 1 F ( z )
t C p z

The heating rate may also be expressed in pressure coordinates. By hydrostatics


dp = gdz
where g is the acceleration due to gravity.

T g F ( p )
t C p p
where g/Cp is the lapse rate.
Applications of Radiative Transfer to
Remote Sensing

Electromagnetic waves interacting with a medium will leave a signature, which can
be used to identify the composition and structure of that medium.
Remote sensing is contrary to in situ measurements where specific observations are
made within the medium.
In remote sensing the observations are made remotely with out affecting the
The basic principle associated with remote sensing is the interpretation of
radiometric measurements of electromagnetic radiation characterised by a specific
spectral interval which is sensitive to some physical aspect of the medium.
Basically an electromagnetic signal is recorded by a detector after it interacts with a
target containing molecules and particles.

If T and S denote the target and signal respectively, then

S = F (T )
where F represents a function, not necessarily linear.

T = F 1 ( S )

The fundamental obstacle in all the inverse problems in remote sensing is the
uniqueness of the solution.
The non uniqueness arises because the medium under investigation may be
composed of a number of unknown parameters whose various combinations may
lead to the same radiation signature.
In addition to this physical problem, there are also mathematical problems
associated with the existence and stability of the solution.
There are two distinct principles involved in remote sensing.
These are active and passive remote sensing.
Active remote sensing employs a radiation source generated by artificial means
such as lasers or microwaves used in radar or lasers used in lidar etc.
The radiant energy source corresponding to the specific wavelength is sent to the
Some of the energy is scattered back to the detector and recorded.
By interpreting the modifications caused in the returned signal, the information
about the medium can be retrieved.
The active remote sensing is mainly concerned with the back-scattering i.e., the
transmitter and receiver are co-located.
Passive remote sensing utilises the natural radiation sources of the sun or earth-
atmosphere system.
For example, spectral solar radiation interacts with the cloud and leaves a scattered
signature which may be used for its identification.
Similarly, the IR radiation emitted by the earth surface or a cloud can be used to
understand its temperature.
For atmospheric applications the most important regions of the EM spectrum are
visible, IR and microwave.