Page updated: October 26, 2020
Author: Curtis Mobley
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The Volume Scattering Function

We now take into account the angular distribution of the scattered power, with two assumptions. We first assume that the medium is isotropic, i.e., its influence on light is the same in all directions at a given point. This is a reasonable assumption for natural waters in which the particles are randomly oriented by turbulence. We also assume that the light is unpolarized. If these two assumptions are true, then the scattering process is azimuthally symmetric. This means that the scattering depends only on the scattering angle ψ, which is measured from the direction of the unscattered beam as shown in Fig. 1. Clearly 0 ψ π.


Figure 1: Geometry for defining the volume scattering function.

Conceptual Definition of the Volume Scattering Function

With these two assumptions, let ΔB(ψ,λ) be the fraction of incident power scattered out of the beam through an angle ψ into a solid angle ΔΩ centered on ψ, as Δr 0 and ΔΩ 0, as shown in the figure. The solid angle ΔΩ now includes all directions within the two red rings shown in the figure, corresponding to all directions between scattering angles ψ and ψ + Δψ. The angular scatterance per unit distance and unit solid angle, β(ψ,λ), is then

β(ψ,λ) lim Δr0 lim ΔΩ0ΔB(ψ,λ) ΔrΔΩ = lim Δr0 lim ΔΩ0 ΔΦs(ψ,λ) Φi(λ)ΔrΔΩ(m1sr1). (1)

Recalling the definition of spectral radiant intensity, the spectral power scattered into the given solid angle ΔΩ is just the intensity scattered into direction ψ times the solid angle: ΔΦs(ψ,λ) = Is(ψ,λ)ΔΩ. Moreover, if the incident power Φi(λ) falls on an area ΔA, then the corresponding incident irradiance is Ei(λ) = Φi(λ)ΔA. Noting that ΔV = ΔrΔA is the volume of water that is illuminated by the incident beam gives

β(ψ,λ) = lim ΔV 0 Is(ψ,λ) Ei(λ)ΔV . (2)

This form of β(ψ,λ) suggests the name volume scattering function (commonly abbreviated as VSF) and the physical interpretation of scattered intensity per unit incident irradiance per unit volume of water. In the language of a physicist, the VSF also can be interpreted as the differential scattering cross section per unit volume.

Other Measures of Scattering

Integrating β(ψ,λ) over all directions (solid angles) gives the total scattered power per unit incident irradiance and unit volume of water, in other words the scattering coefficient:

b(λ) =Ξβ(ψ,λ)dΩ = 2π0πβ(ψ,λ) sin ψdψ. (3)

The 2π in the last equation follows from our assumption that the scattering is azimuthally symmetric about the incident direction. This integration is often divided into forward scattering, 0 ψ < π2, and backward scattering, π2 ψ π, parts. The corresponding forward and backward scattering coefficients are, respectively,

bf(λ) 2π0π2β(ψ,λ) sin ψdψ (4)
bb(λ) 2ππ2πβ(ψ,λ) sin ψdψ. (5)

The backscatter fraction, defined by

Bb(λ) bb(λ) b(λ) , (6)

gives the fraction of scattered light that is deflected through scattering angles greater than 90 deg. This quantity is fundamental to remote sensing because most of the light leaving the ocean in an upward direction comes from sunlight that was originally heading downward, but which was backscattered into upward directions.

The volume scattering phase function, β̃(ψ,λ), is defined by

β̃(ψ,λ) β(ψ,λ) b(λ) (sr1). (7)

Writing the VSF β(ψ,λ) as the product of the scattering coefficient b(λ) times the phase function β̃(ψ,λ) partitions β(ψ,λ) into a factor giving the magnitude of the total scattering, b(λ) with units of m1, and a factor giving the angular distribution of the scattered light, β̃(ψ,λ), with units of sr1. Combining Eqs. (3) and (7) gives the normalization condition for the phase function:

2π0πβ̃(ψ,λ) sin ψdψ = 1. (8)

This normalization implies that the backscatter fraction can be computed from

Bb(λ) 2ππ2πβ̃(ψ,λ) sin ψdψ. (9)

Comment: The term “phase function” has its historical origins in astronomy, where the phase angle is the angle between the directions of the light incident onto and reflected from an object. In the case of sunlight being reflected by the moon and seen on earth, this angle depends on the phase of the moon—hence the name phase function for the function that gives the phase angle as a function of time. In our terminology, the phase angle is π minus the scattering angle. The phase function β̃(ψ,λ) defined here has nothing whatsoever to do with the phase of an electromagnetic wave.

The asymmetry parameter g or mean cosine of the phase function is average over all scattering directions of the cosine of the scattering angle ψ, namely

g = cos ψ 2π0πβ̃(ψ) cos ψ sin ψdψ. (10)

The asymmetry parameter is a convenient measure of the “shape” of the phase function. For example, if β̃(ψ) is very large for small ψ, then g is near one. If β̃(ψ) is symmetric about ψ = 90, then g = 0. Typical ocean waters have g values in the range of 0.8 to 0.95.

Comment: We have assumed above that the scattering is azimuthally symmetric, so that the directional pattern or angular shape of the VSF depends only on the scattering angle ψ. This is not the case for polarized light, even if the medium is isotropic. Thus a linearly polarized laser beam will scatter differently for different azimuthal directions (measured relative to the plane of polarization), even if the medium is isotropic. If the medium contains non-spherical particles that are not randomly oriented, even unpolarized light will scatter differently for different azimuthal directions. This is sometimes the case, for example, in cirrus clouds and ice fogs, which can have non-spherical ice crystals that become oriented in a particular way as the crystals fall through a calm atmosphere. The atmosphere is then an optically anisotropic medium, and scattering is not azimuthally symmetric. Scattering of sunlight in such an atmosphere gives rise to phenomena such as “sun dogs” or parhelia, which are bright spots to either side of the sun.

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