Directional radiometry and radiative transfer: A new paradigm

Mishchenko, M. (2011), Directional radiometry and radiative transfer: A new paradigm, J. Quant. Spectrosc. Radiat. Transfer, 112, 2079-2094, doi:10.1016/j.jqsrt.2011.04.006.

Measurements with directional radiometers and calculations based on the radiative transfer equation (RTE) have been at the very heart of weather and climate modeling and terrestrial remote sensing. The quantification of the energy budget of the Earth’s climate system requires exquisite measurements and computations of the incoming and outgoing electromagnetic energy, while global characterization of climate system’s components relies heavily on theoretical inversions of observational data obtained with various passive and active instruments. The same basic problems involving electromagnetic energy transport and its use for diagnostic and characterization purposes are encountered in numerous other areas of science, biomedicine, and engineering. Yet both the discipline of directional radiometry and the radiative transfer theory (RTT) have traditionally been based on phenomenological concepts many of which turn out to be profound misconceptions. Contrary to the widespread belief, a collimated radiometer does not, in general, measure the flow of electromagnetic energy along its optical axis, while the specific intensity does not quantify the amount of electromagnetic energy transported in a given direction.

The recently developed microphysical approach to radiative transfer and directional radiometry is explicitly based on the Maxwell equations and clarifies the physical nature of measurements with collimated radiometers and the actual content of the RTE. It reveals that the specific intensity has no fundamental physical meaning besides being a mathematical solution of the RTE, while the RTE itself is nothing more than an intermediate auxiliary equation. Only under special circumstances detailed in this review can the solution of the RTE be used to compute the time-averaged local Poynting vector as well as be measured by a collimated radiometer. These firmly established facts make the combination of the RTE and a collimated radiometer useful in a well-defined range of applications. However, outside the domain of validity of the RTT the practical usefulness of measurements with collimated radiometers remains uncertain, while the theoretical modeling of these measurements and the solution of the energy-budget problem require a more sophisticated approach than solving the RTE.

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Radiation Science Program (RSP)