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Barry A. Bodhaine
Norman B. Wood
Ellsworth G. Dutton
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James R. Slusser


Many different techniques are used for the calculation of Rayleigh optical depth in the atmosphere. In some cases differences among these techniques can be important, especially in the UV region of the spectrum and under clean atmospheric conditions. The authors recommend that the calculation of Rayleigh optical depth be approached by going back to the first principles of Rayleigh scattering theory rather than the variety of curve-fitting techniques currently in use. A survey of the literature was conducted in order to determine the latest values of the physical constants necessary and to review the methods available for the calculation of Rayleigh optical depth. The recommended approach requires the accurate calculation of the refractive index of air based on the latest published measurements. Calculations estimating Rayleigh optical depth should be done as accurately as possible because the inaccuracies that arise can equal or even exceed other quantities being estimated, such as aerosol optical depth, particularly in the UV region of the spectrum. All of the calculations are simple enough to be done easily in a spreadsheet.

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