A study of atmospheric polarization in unique scattering conditions at twilight, during a solar eclipse, and for cloud phase retrievals using all-sky polarization imaging

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


Polarization is a fundamental property of light that can be detected with polarization-sensitive instruments for many remote sensing applications. To quantitatively interpret the remote sensing data, an understanding how naturally occurring polarization depends on wavelength and environmental parameters is needed. The most obvious source of naturally occurring polarization is atmospheric scattering. For a clear-sky environment, Rayleigh scattering dominates, resulting from scattering by atmospheric gas molecules that are much smaller than the optical wavelength, and a distinct all-sky polarization pattern exists. A band of maximum degree of linear polarization can be observed 90? from the sun with polarization vectors orientated perpendicular to the scattering plane (i.e. the plane containing the incident and scattered light). However, aerosols, clouds, and underlying surface reflectance can alter the observed sky polarization. Military, environmental, and navigational applications exploit the sky polarization pattern to detect objects, retrieve aerosol and cloud properties, and to find compass headings based on the sky polarization pattern. Sky polarization is also being used to calibrate the polarization response of large telescopes. It is important to understand how partially polarized skylight can vary with environmental factors, as well as with wavelength and solar position, so that polarization measurements can be interpreted correctly. The direction of polarization when aligned to a specific reference frame can provide additional information beyond the basic polarization pattern. This dissertation expands the current knowledge of skylight polarization by validating radiative transfer simulations in the shortwave infrared, by reporting the first-ever retrievals of cloud thermodynamic phase from all-sky polarization images using the Stokes S1 parameter referenced in the scattering plane, and by quantifying how partially polarized skylight varied under unique scattering conditions during the 2017 solar eclipse. In order to accurately predict cloud thermodynamic phase and to analyze the temporal distribution of skylight during a total solar eclipse, a physics-based understanding of the Stokes parameters and angle of polarization (AoP) with respect to the instrument, scattering, and solar principal planes was also developed. Through each experiment, two underlying threads were observed. First, in order to accurately interpret results, environmental parameters needed to be characterized. Second, when rotated into a specific reference frame, the Stokes parameters and AoP can be utilized differently and provide unique insights when analyzing all-sky polarization data.




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