Measurements of the upwelling polarized radiance in relatively shallow waters of varying depths and benthic conditions are compared to simulations, revealing the depolarizing nature of the seafloor. The simulations, executed with the software package RayXP, are solutions to the vector radiative transfer equation, which depends on the incident light field and three types of parameters: inherent optical properties, the scattering matrix, and the benthic reflectance. These were measured directly or calculated from measurements with additional assumptions. Specifically, the Lambertian model used to simulate benthic reflectances is something of a simplification of reality, but the bottoms used in this study are found to be crucial for accurate simulations of polarization. Comparisons of simulations with and without bottom contributions show that only the former corroborate measurements of the Stokes components and the degree of linear polarization (DoLP) collected by the polarimeter developed at the City College of New York. Because this polarimeter is multiangular and hyperspectral, errors can be computed point-wise over a large range of scattering angles and wavelengths. Trends also become apparent. DoLP is highly sensitive to the benthic reflectance and to the incident wavelength, peaking in the red band, but the angle of linear polarization is almost spectrally constant and independent of the bottom. These results can thus facilitate the detection of benthic materials as well as future studies of camouflage by benthic biota; to hide underwater successfully, animals must reflect light just as depolarized as that reflected by benthic materials.
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