This paper describes estimation of low-altitude atmospheric refractivity from radar sea clutter observations. The vertical structure of the refractive environment is modeled using five parameters, and the horizontal structure is modeled using six parameters. The refractivity model is implemented with and without an a priori constraint on the duct strength, as might be derived from soundings or numerical weather-prediction models. An electromagnetic propagation model maps the refractivity structure into a replica field. Replica fields are compared to the observed clutter using a squared-error objective function. A global search for the 11 environmental parameters is performed using genetic algorithms. The inversion algorithm is implemented on S-band radar sea-clutter data from Wallops Island, Virginia. Reference data are from range-dependent refractivity profiles obtained with a helicopter. The inversion is assessed (1) by comparing the propagation predicted from the radar-inferred refractivity profiles and from the helicopter profiles, (2) by comparing the refractivity parameters from the helicopter soundings to those estimated, and (3) by examining the fit between observed clutter and optimal replica field. This technique could provide near-real-time estimation of ducting effects. In practical implementations it is unlikely that range-dependent soundings would be available. A single sounding is used for evaluating the radar-inferred environmental parameters. When the unconstrained environmental model is used, the “refractivity-from-clutter,” the propagation loss generated and the loss from this single sounding, is close within the duct; however, above the duct they differ. Use of the constraint on the duct strength leads to a better match also above the duct.
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