Polarimetric retrievals of surface and cirrus clouds properties in the region...

Ottaviani, M., B. Cairns, J. Chowdhary, B. Van Diedenhoven, K. Knobelspiesse, C. Hostetler, R. Ferrare, S. Burton, J. W. Hair, M. Obland, and R. R. Rogers (2012), Polarimetric retrievals of surface and cirrus clouds properties in the region affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Remote Sensing of Environment, 121, 389-403, doi:10.1016/j.rse.2012.02.016.

In 2010, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Research Scanning Polarimeter (RSP) performed several aerial surveys over the region affected by the oil spill caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore platform. The instrument was deployed on the NASA Langley B200 aircraft together with the High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL), which provides information on the distribution of the aerosol layers beneath the aircraft, including an accurate estimate of aerosol optical depth. This work illustrates the merits of polarization measurements in detecting variations of ocean surface properties linked to the presence of an oil slick. In particular, we make use of the degree of linear polarization in the glint region, which is severely affected by variations in the refractive index but insensitive to the waviness of the water surface. Alterations in the surface optical properties are therefore expected to directly affect the polarization response of the RSP channel at 2264 nm, where both molecular and aerosol scattering are negligible and virtually all of the observed signal is generated via Fresnel reflection at the surface. The glint profile at this wavelength is fitted with a model which can optimally estimate refractive index, wind speed and direction, together with aircraft attitude variations affecting the viewing geometry. The retrieved refractive index markedly increases over oil-contaminated waters, while the apparent wind speed is significantly lower than in adjacent uncontaminated areas, suggesting that the slick dampens high-frequency components of the ocean wave spectrum. The constraint on surface reflectance provided by the short-wave infrared channels is a cornerstone of established procedures to retrieve atmospheric aerosol microphysical parameters based on the inversion of the RSP multispectral measurements. This retrieval, which benefits from the ancillary information provided by the HSRL, was in this specific case hampered by prohibitive variability in atmospheric conditions (very inhomogeneous aerosol distribution and cloud cover). Although the results presented for the surface are essentially unaffected, we discuss the results obtained by typing algorithms in sorting the complex mix of aerosol types, and show evidence of oriented ice in cirrus clouds present in the area. In this context, polarization measurements at 1880 nm were used to infer ice habit and cirrus optical depth, which was found in the subvisual/threshold-visible regime, confirming the utility of the aforementioned RSP channel for the remote sensing of even thin cold clouds.

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