Simulations of Light Transmission Through a Virtual Cloud

Student: Christopher Blouin

Major: Physics

Mentors: Dr. Michael L. Larsen

Department: Physics and Astronomy

Simulations of Light Transmission Through a Virtual Cloud

The propagation of energy through the atmosphere depends on the interactions between light and matter, like clouds, aerosol particles, and gases making up the atmosphere. The field of radiative transfer focuses on these interactions, with particular emphasis on studying the cumulative impact of scattering and absorption of light when interacting with atmospheric particles. Simulation techniques in this discipline typically do not resolve individual particles, but rather treat the atmosphere as a continuous undifferentiated substance. A new tool, developed by collaborators at Michigan Technological University, allows for resolving individual particle locations in a modestly sized (~2m x 0.2m x 0.2m) atmospheric volume with realistic cloud-like droplet number density and particle spatial distributions.

Computational tradeoffs often need to be made in order to explore the variety of atmospheric conditions that are realistic while still completing the simulations in a reasonable amount of time. One of these tradeoffs is to approximate an exact treatment of the light-particle scattering/absorption interaction with a smoothed approximation.

Here, we investigate the degree to which using this approximation influences the reported light transmission through a simulated cloud volume by comparing the approximate results to the exact theoretical treatment. Preliminary results suggest that differences are notable even when millions of particles and hundreds of thousands of photons are used to run the simulation.