Transmission of linearly polarized light in seawater: Implications for polarization signaling Academic Article uri icon


  • Partially linearly polarized light is abundant in the oceans. The natural light field is partially polarized throughout the photic range, and some objects and animals produce a polarization pattern of their own. Many polarization-sensitive marine animals take advantage of the polarization information, using it for tasks ranging from navigation and finding food to communication. In such tasks, the distance to which the polarization information propagates is of great importance. Using newly designed polarization sensors, we measured the changes in linear polarization underwater as a function of distance from a standard target. In the relatively clear waters surrounding coral reefs, partial (%) polarization decreased exponentially as a function of distance from the target, resulting in a 50% reduction of partial polarization at a distance of 1.25-3 m, depending on water quality. Based on these measurements, we predict that polarization sensitivity will be most useful for short-range (in the order of meters) visual tasks in water and less so for detecting objects, signals, or structures from far away. Navigation and body orientation based on the celestial polarization pattern are predicted to be limited to shallow waters as well, while navigation based on the solar position is possible through a deeper range.

publication date

  • September 15, 2004