National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy & Radiative Transfer 113 (2012) 789–804;


Characterization of the Earth’s surface is crucial to remote sensing, both to map geomorphological features and because subtracting this signal is essential during retrievals of the atmospheric constituents located between the surface and the sensor. Current operational algorithms model the surface total reflectance through a weighted linear combination of a few geometry-dependent kernels, each devised to describe a particular scattering mechanism. The information content of these measurements is overwhelmed by that of instruments with polarization capabilities: proposed models in this case are based on the Fresnel reflectance of an isotropic distribution of facets. Because of its remarkable lack of spectral contrast, the polarized reflectance of land surfaces in the shortwave infrared spectral region, where atmospheric scattering is minimal, can be used to model the surface also at shorter wavelengths, where aerosol retrievals are attempted based on well-established scattering theories.

In radiative transfer simulations, straightforward separation of the surface and atmospheric contributions is not possible without approximations because of the coupling introduced by multiple reflections. Within a general inversion framework, the problem can be eliminated by linearizing the radiative transfer calculation, and making the Jacobian (i.e., the derivative expressing the sensitivity of the reflectance with respect to model parameters) available at output. We present a general methodology based on a Gauss–Newton iterative search, which automates this procedure and eliminates de facto the need of an ad hoc atmospheric correction.

In this case study we analyze the color variations in the polarized reflectance measured by the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies Research Scanning Polari- meter during a survey of late-season snowfields in the High Sierra. This insofar unique dataset presents challenges linked to the rugged topography associated with the alpine environment and a likely high water content due to melting. The analysis benefits from ancillary information provided by the NASA Langley High Spectral Resolution Lidar deployed on the same aircraft.

The results obtained from the iterative scheme are contrasted against the surface polarized reflectance obtained ignoring multiple reflections, via the simplistic subtraction of the atmospheric scattering contribution. Finally, the retrieved reflectance is modeled after the scattering properties of a dense collection of ice crystals at the surface. Confirming that the polarized reflectance of snow is spectrally flat would allow to extend the techniques already in use for polarimetric retrievals of aerosol properties over land to the large portion of snow-covered pixels plaguing orbital and suborbital observations.