The purpose of this paper is to derive a reliable theory to predict the performance of a narrow-FOV bathymetric lidar. A fundamental discrepancy between the theoretical estimate and experimental results was the inspiration for the work presented here Meeting oceanographic mapping requirements is a critically important goal for littoral laser bathymetry. In contrast to traditional airborne lidar system which are optimized for recovering signals from the deepest possible waters , the above challenge may be met with a radical narrowing to the lidar transmit beam and receiver field of view (FOV) employed in EAARL (Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar, NASA). In this paper we discuss theoretical analysis carried out on the basis of a sophisticated “multiple-forward scattering and single-backscattering model” for lidar return signals allows a quantitative estimation of the advantages of a narrow-FOV system over traditional bathymetric lidars (SHOALS-400, SHOALS-100, LADS Mk II) when used in clear shallow-water cases. Some of those advantages are:
· Increase in bottom definition (or reduced false-alarm probability) due to the enhanced contrast of the bottom return over the background backscatter from the water column,
· Enhancement in depth measurement accuracy resulting from narrower bottom return pulse width,
· Reduction of post-surface return effects in the lidar photo-multiplier detector due to a more rapid decay of water column backscatter,
· Greatly improved rejection of ambient light permitting lidar operations in all zenith sun angles and flight directions. The model computations make it possible to estimate the maximal operational depth for the system under consideration by the implementation of statistical theory of detectability. These computations depend on the prevailing seawater optical properties and lidar parameters. The theoretical predictions are compared with results obtained in the field test of the EAARL system carried out in Florida Keys in 2001.