A polarized lidar technique based on measurements of waveforms of the two orthogonal-polarized components of the backscattered light pulse is proposed to retrieve vertical profiles of the seawater scattering coefficient. The physical rationale for the polarized technique is that depolarization of backscattered light originating from a linearly polarized laser beam is caused largely by multiple small-angle scattering from particulate matter in seawater. The magnitude of the small-angle scattering is determined by the scattering coefficient. Therefore information on the vertical distribution of the scattering coefficient can be derived potentially from measurements of the time–depth dependence of depolarization in the backscattered laser pulse. The polarized technique was verified by field measurements conducted in the Middle Atlantic Bight of the western North Atlantic Ocean that were supported by in situ measurements of the beam attenuation coefficient. The airborne polarized lidar measured the time–depth dependence of the backscattered laser pulse in two orthogonal-polarized components. Vertical profiles of the scattering coefficient retrieved from the time–depth depolarization of the backscattered laser pulse were compared with measured profiles of the beam attenuation coefficient. The comparison showed that retrieved profiles of the scattering coefficient clearly reproduce the main features of the measured profiles of the beam attenuation coefficient. Underwater scattering layers were detected at depths of 20–25 m in turbid coastal waters. The improvement in dynamic range afforded by the polarized lidar technique offers a strong potential benefit for airborne lidar bathymetric applications.
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