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Global distribution of water vapor and cloud cover-sites for high-performance THz applications


Absorption of terahertz radiation by atmospheric water vapor is a serious impediment for radio astronomy and for long-distance communications. Transmission in the THz regime is dependent almost exclusively on atmospheric precipitable water vapor (PWV). Though much of the Earth has PWV that is too high for good transmission above 200 GHz, there are a number of dry sites with very low attenuation. We performed a global analysis of PWV with high-resolution measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) on two NASA Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites over the year of 2011. We determined PWV and cloud cover distributions and then developed a model to find transmission and atmospheric radiance as well as necessary integration times in the various windows. We produced global maps over the common THz windows for astronomical and satellite communications scenarios. Notably, we show that, up through 1 THz, systems could be built in excellent sites of Chile, Greenland, and the Tibetan Plateau, while Antarctic performance is good to 1.6 THz. For a ground-to-space communication link up through 847 GHz, we found several sites in the Continental United States where mean atmospheric attenuation is less than 40 dB, which is not an insurmountable challenge for a link. © 2013 IEEE.

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