Abstract

Motivated by several observations of the degree of linear polarization of skylight in the oxygen A (O2A) band that do not yet have a quantitative explanation, we analyze the influence of aerosol altitude, microphysics, and optical thickness on the degree of linear polarization of the zenith skylight in the spectral region of the O2A band, between 755 to 775nm. It is shown that the degree of linear polarization inside the O2A band is particularly sensitive to aerosol altitude. The sensitivity is strongest for aerosols within the troposphere and depends also on their microphysical properties and optical thickness. The polarization of the O2A band can be larger than the polarization of the continuum, which typically occurs for strongly polarizing aerosols in an elevated layer, or smaller, which typically occurs for depolarizing aerosols or cirrus clouds in an elevated layer. We show that in the case of a single aerosol layer in the atmosphere a determination of the aerosol layer altitude may be obtained. Furthermore, we show limitations of the aerosol layer altitude determination in case of multiple aerosol layers. To perform these simulations we developed a fast method for multiple scattering radiative transfer calculations in gaseous absorption bands including polarization. The method is a combination of doubling-adding and k-binning methods. We present an error estimation of this method by comparing with accurate line-by-line radiative transfer simulations. For the O2A band, the errors in the degree of linear polarization are less than 0.11% for transmitted light, and less than 0.31% for reflected light.

© 2008 Optical Society of America

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