Optically significant particle sizes in seawater

Emlyn Davies, David McKee, David George Bowers, George W. Graham, W. Alex M. Nimmo-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Small particles (<10  μm) are often considered to play the dominant role in controlling scattering and absorption due to their relatively large numbers, which are typically found in the ocean. Here we present an approach for quantifying the size range of particles that contribute significantly to bulk inherent optical properties. We present a numerical assessment of the variability in optically significant particle sizes for simplistic populations that conform to the assumptions of homogeneous, spherical particles, and power-law size distributions. We use numerical predictions from Mie theory to suggest minimum and maximum particle sizes required for accurate predictions and observations of ocean optics for different particle size distributions (PSDs). When considering observed ranges of PSDs, our predictions suggest the need for measurements of optical properties and particles to capture information from particle sizes between diameters of 0.05–2000 μm in order to properly constrain relationships between particles and their associated optical properties. Natural particle populations in the ocean may present more complex PSDs that could be analyzed using the method presented here to establish optically significant size classes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1067-1074
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Optics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2014


  • small particles
  • seawater
  • particle sizes
  • ocean


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