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Characterization of the oceanic light field within the photic zone: Fluctuations of downward irradiance and asymmetry of horizontal radiance


Two distinctive features of underwater light field in the upper ocean were examined: the wave-induced high-frequency light fluctuations within the near-surface layer under sunny skies, and the asymmetry of horizontal radiance within the photic layer of the ocean.

To characterize the spatiotemporal statistical properties of the wave-induced light fluctuations, measurements of downward plane irradiance were made with novel instrumentation within the top 10 m layer of the ocean at depths as shallow as 10 cm under sunny skies, different solar zenith angles, and weak to moderate wind speeds. It was found that the maximum intensity of light fluctuations occurs at depths as shallow as 20 cm under the most favorable conditions for wave focusing, which correspond to high sun in a clear sky with weak wind. The strong frequency dependence of light fluctuations at shallow near-surface depths indicates dominant frequency range of 1 – 3 Hz under favorable conditions that shifts toward lower frequencies with increasing depth. The light fluctuations were found to be spatially correlated over horizontal distances varying from few up to 10 – 20 cm at temporal scales of 0.3 – 1 sec (at the dominant frequency of 1 – 3 Hz). The distance of correlation showed a tendency to increase with increasing depth, solar zenith angle, and wind speed. The observed variations in spatiotemporal statistical properties of underwater light fluctuations with depth and environmental conditions are driven largely by weakening of sunlight focusing which is associated with light scattering within the water column, in the atmosphere and at the air-sea interface.

To investigate the underwater horizontal radiance field, measurements of horizontal spectral radiance in two opposite directions (solar and anti-solar azimuths) within the solar principal plane were made within the photic layer of the open ocean. The ratio of these two horizontal radiances represents the asymmetry of horizontal radiance field. In addition to measurements, the radiative transfer simulations were also conducted to examine variations in the asymmetry of horizontal radiance at different light wavelengths as a function of solar zenith angle at different depths within the water column down to 200 m. It was demonstrated that the asymmetry of horizontal radiance increases with increasing solar zenith angle, reaching a maximum at angles of 60° – 80° under clear skies at shallow depths (1 – 10 m). At larger depths the maximum of asymmetry occurs at smaller solar zenith angles. The asymmetry was also found to increase with increasing light wavelength. The results from radiative transfer simulations provided evidence that variations in the asymmetry with solar zenith angle are driven largely by the diffuseness of light incident upon the sea surface and the geometry of illumination of the sea surface, both associated with changing position of the sun.

In addition to contributions to the field of ocean optics, the findings of this dissertation have relevance for oceanic animal camouflage and vision as well as photosynthesis and other photochemical processes.

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