The effects of multiple scattering on the interpretation of the time dependence of elastic backscattering of laser pulses from the ocean (lidar) are investigated through solving the radiative transfer equation by Monte Carlo techniques. In particular, after removal of the geometric loss factors, it is found that the backscattered power is a decaying exponential function of time, over the time interval required for photons to travel four attenuation lengths through the water. The effective attenuation coefficient of this exponential decay is found to be strongly dependent on the parameters of the lidar system and on the optical properties of the water. The significant parameter is the ratio of the radius of the spot on the sea surface viewed by the lidar receiver optics to the mean free path of photons in the water. For values of this parameter near zero, the decay is determined by the beam attenuation coefficient, while for values greater than ~5–6, the decay is given by the attenuation coefficient for downwelling irradiance, often referred to as the diffuse attenuation coefficient. Between these two extremes the interpretation of the effective attenuation coefficient requires, essentially, complete knowledge of the inherent optical properties of the water: the beam attenuation coefficient and the volume scattering function.
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