To analyze the effects of atmospheric refractive turbulence on coherent lidar performance in a realistic way it is necessary to consider the use of simulations of beam propagation in three-dimensional random media. The capability of the split-step solution to simulate the propagation phenomena is shown, and the limitations and numerical requirements for a simulation of given accuracy are established. Several analytical theories that describe laser beam spreading, beam wander, coherence diameters, and variance and autocorrelation of the beam intensity are compared with results from simulations. Although the analysis stems from a study of coherent lidar performance, the conclusions of the method are applicable to other areas related to beam propagation in the atmosphere.
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