Radiative transport theory describes the propagation of light in random media that absorb, scatter, and emit radiation. To describe the propagation of light, the full polarization state is quantified using the Stokes parameters. For the sake of mathematical convenience, the polarization state of light is often neglected leading to the scalar radiative transport equation for the intensity only. For scalar transport theory, there is a well-established body of literature on numerical and analytic approximations to the radiative transport equation. We extend the scalar theory to the vector radiative transport equation (vRTE). In particular, we are interested in the theoretical basis for a phenomena called circular polarization memory.
Circular polarization memory is the physical phenomena whereby circular polarization retains its ellipticity and handedness when propagating in random media. This is in contrast to the propagation of linear polarization in random media, which depolarizes at a faster rate, and specular reflection of circular polarization, whereby the circular polarization handedness flips. We investigate two limits that are of known interest in the phenomena of circular polarization memory. The first limit we investigate is that of forward-peaked scattering, i.e. the limit where most scattering events occur in the forward or near-forward directions. The second limit we consider is that of strong scattering and weak absorption.
In the forward-peaked scattering limit we approximate the vRTE by a system of partial differential equations motivated by the scalar Fokker-Planck approximation. We call the leading order approximation the vector Fokker-Planck approximation. The vector Fokker Planck approximation predicts that strongly forward-peaked media exhibit circular polarization memory where the strength of the effect can be calculated from the expansion of the scattering matrix in special functions. In addition, we find in this limit that total intensity, linear polarization, and circular polarization decouple. From this result we conclude, that in the Fokker-Planck limit the scalar approximation is an appropriate leading order approximation.
In the strong scattering and weak absorbing limit the vector radiative transport equation can be analyzed using boundary layer theory. In this case, the problem of light scattering in an optically thick medium is reduced to a 1D vRTE near the boundary and a 3D diffusion equation in the interior. We develop and implement a numerical solver for the boundary layer problem by using a discrete ordinate solver in the boundary layer and a spectral method to solve the diffusion approximation in the interior. We implement the method in Fortran 95 with external dependencies on BLAS, LAPACK, and FFTW. By analyzing the spectrum of the discretized vRTE in the boundary layer, we are able to predict the presence of circular polarization memory in a given medium.