Articles | Volume 4, issue 10
Research article
21 Oct 2011
Research article |  | 21 Oct 2011

Atmospheric influences on infrared-laser signals used for occultation measurements between Low Earth Orbit satellites

S. Schweitzer, G. Kirchengast, and V. Proschek

Abstract. LEO-LEO infrared-laser occultation (LIO) is a new occultation technique between Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which applies signals in the short wave infrared spectral range (SWIR) within 2 μm to 2.5 μm. It is part of the LEO-LEO microwave and infrared-laser occultation (LMIO) method that enables to retrieve thermodynamic profiles (pressure, temperature, humidity) and altitude levels from microwave signals and profiles of greenhouse gases and further variables such as line-of-sight wind speed from simultaneously measured LIO signals. Due to the novelty of the LMIO method, detailed knowledge of atmospheric influences on LIO signals and of their suitability for accurate trace species retrieval did not yet exist. Here we discuss these influences, assessing effects from refraction, trace species absorption, aerosol extinction and Rayleigh scattering in detail, and addressing clouds, turbulence, wind, scattered solar radiation and terrestrial thermal radiation as well. We show that the influence of refractive defocusing, foreign species absorption, aerosols and turbulence is observable, but can be rendered small to negligible by use of the differential transmission principle with a close frequency spacing of LIO absorption and reference signals within 0.5%. The influences of Rayleigh scattering and terrestrial thermal radiation are found negligible. Cloud-scattered solar radiation can be observable under bright-day conditions, but this influence can be made negligible by a close time spacing (within 5 ms) of interleaved laser-pulse and background signals. Cloud extinction loss generally blocks SWIR signals, except very thin or sub-visible cirrus clouds, which can be addressed by retrieving a cloud layering profile and exploiting it in the trace species retrieval. Wind can have a small influence on the trace species absorption, which can be made negligible by using a simultaneously retrieved or a moderately accurate background wind speed profile. We conclude that the set of SWIR channels proposed for implementing the LMIO method (Kirchengast and Schweitzer, 2011) provides adequate sensitivity to accurately retrieve eight trace species of key importance to climate and atmospheric chemistry (H2O, CO2, 13CO2, C18OO, CH4, N2O, O3, CO) in the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere region outside clouds under all atmospheric conditions. Two further species (HDO, H218O) can be retrieved in the upper troposphere.