The Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) on the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-2) mission is a six beam, low energy, high repetition rate, 532 nm laser transmitter with photon counting detectors. Although designed primarily for detecting height changes in icecaps, sea ice and vegetation, the polar-orbital satellite will observe global surface water during its designed three year life span, including inland water bodies, coasts, and open oceans. In preparation for the mission, an ICESat-2 prototype or the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar (MABEL), was built and flown on high altitude aircraft experiments over a range of inland and near-shore targets. The purpose was to test the ATLAS concept and to provide a database for developing an algorithm that detects along track surface water height and light penetration under a range of atmospheric and water conditions. The current analysis examines the datasets of three MABEL transects observed from 20 km above ground of coastal and inland waters conducted in 2012 and 2013. Transects ranged from about 2 to 12 km in length and included the middle Chesapeake Bay, the near shore Atlantic coast at Virginia Beach, and Lake Mead. Results indicate MABEL's high capability for retrieving surface water height statistics with a mean height precision of approximately 5-7 cm per 100m segment length. Profiles of attenuated subsurface backscatter, characterized using a Signal to Background Ratio written in Log10 base, or LSBR 0 , were observed over a range of 1.3 to 9.3 meters depending on water clarity and atmospheric background. Results indicate that observable penetration depth, although primarily dependent on water properties, was greatest when solar background rate was low. Near shore bottom reflectance was detected only at the Lake Mead site down to maximum of 10 m under a clear night sky and low turbidity of approximately 1.6 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU). The overall results suggest that the feasibility of retrieving operational surface water height statistics from space-based photon counting systems such as ATLAS is very high for resolutions down to about 100m, even in partly cloudy conditions. The capability to observe subsurface backscatter profiles is achievable but requires much longer transects of several hundreds of meters.
Keywords: 532nm; ATLAS; ICESat-2; Lidar; MABEL; altimetry; coast; inland water; light penetration; photon counting; significant wave height; solar background; subsurface backscatter.