12.815 Atmospheric Radiation

Fall 2006

Atmospheric radiation blockage.The dependence of light transmission through the atmosphere on light wavelength. Because of Earth's atmosphere, many wavelengths of radiation cannot be observed by detectors or telescopes on Earth's surface. Only visible light, radio waves, and some ultraviolet light reaches sea level. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Course Highlights

This course features complete lecture notes and computational exercises in assignments section.

Course Description

This is an introduction to the physics of atmospheric radiation and remote sensing including use of computer codes. Subjects covered include: radiative transfer equation including emission and scattering, spectroscopy, Mie theory, and numerical solutions. We examine the solution of inverse problems in remote sensing of atmospheric temperature and composition.


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Physical Chemistry (5.61), Advanced Calculus for Engineers (18.075), or permission of instructor.


Based on grades from 6 exercises (weighted by degree of difficulty).

Required Textbook

Amazon logo Liou, Kuo-Nan. An Introduction to Atmospheric Radiation. 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Academic Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780124514515.

Reference Textbook

Amazon logo Goody, R., and Y. Yung. Atmospheric Radiation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN: 9780195102918.


Calendar Legends

(P): Lecture taught by Prof. Ronald Prinn
(M): Lecture taught by Dr. Robert McClatchey

1Course Overview and Role of Radiation in Climate System (P and M)

  • Global Energy Budget
  • Chemical Composition and Radiative Effects
  • Thermal Structure of the Atmosphere
2Physics of Radiation (P)

  • Thermodynamic Concepts
  • Energy Levels in Molecules
3Molecular Spectroscopy (P)

  • Absorbtion and Emission Rules
  • Spectra (Rotational, Vibrational, Electronic)
  • Line Shapes
4Equation of Radiative Transfer (M)

Derivation - Special Cases

5Equation of Radiative Transfer (cont.) (M)

Fluxes and Simple Solutions - Radiative Equilibrium Approximation (Exercise 1)

6Modeling Atmospheric Transmission and Emission (M)

The HITRAN Data Base and Applications (Exercise 2)

Exercise 1 due
7Modeling Atmospheric Transmission and Emission (cont.) (M)

Band Models (Weak Line, Strong Line, Random, Regular, k Distribution)

Exercise 2 due
8Modeling Atmospheric Transmission and Emission (cont.) (M)

MODTRAN - R.M. (Exercise 3)

9Scattering of Radiation by Molecules and Particles (1 Class Period) (M)

  • Single Scattering
  • Size Distributions
  • Mie Scattering (Exercise 4)
Exercise 3 due
10Multiple Scattering (1 Class Period) (M)

Discrete Ordinates (Exercise 5)

Exercise 4 due
11Remote Sensing (4 Class Periods) (cont.) (M)

  • Scattered Sunlight (Observations from Ground, from Satellite)
  • Retrieval of Gases, Particulate Information, Surface Properties
Exercise 5 due
12Remote Sensing (cont.) (M)

  • Thermal Emission
  • Weighting Functions
  • Temperature and Water Vapor Retrieval
  • Limb Scanning
13Remote Sensing (cont.) (M)

Application of MODTRAN to Remote Sensing (Exercise 6)

14Remote Sensing (cont.) (M)

Miscellaneous Topics and Summary (Microwave Remote Sensing, Active Remote Sensing - LIDAR and RADAR)

Exercise 6 due five days after Lec #14

Lecture Notes

This section contains documents that could not be made accessible to screen reader software. A "#" symbol is used to denote such documents.

Lectures by Dr. Robert A. McClatchey

Equation of Radiative Transfer (PDF)

Modeling Atmospheric Transmission and Emission (PDF)#

Scattering of Radiation by Molecules and Particles (PDF)

Remote Sensing (PDF - 1.4 MB)

Lectures by Prof. Ronald Prinn

Course Overview and Role of Radiation in Climate System (PDF)

Thermodynamic Concepts of Radiation and Energy Levels in Molecules (PDF)#

Absorption and Emission by Gases (PDF)#



Radiative Transfer (PDF)

The HITRAN data base can be downloaded (together with the HAWKS program) from the Web site.
The HAWKS program can be used for the "Search" and "Plot" portions of the exercise together with the HITRAN data base. To do the "Trans" portion of the exercise, it is necessary to purchase the PCLnWin code which is available from ONTAR Corporation for purchase. The ONTAR Web site and their current price list quotes $4,900.00 for PCLnWin ver 3.0.

Pcmodwin (PDF)
The MODTRAN code is necessary to perform this exercise and it is available for purchase from ONTAR Corporation. Their current price list quotes $2,400.00.

Mie Theory (PDF)
This software can be downloaded for free from the following Web site:

Multiple Scattering (PDF)
This software can be downloaded for free from the following Web site:

Remote Sensing (PDF)
The first part of this exercise requires that the student have access to a matrix inversion computer program. The second part requires the use of PCModWin which was previously used for PCmodwin exercise.



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