The review below appeared in INT. JOURNAL CLIMATOLOGY, Volume 20, December, 2000.



Keith P. Shine, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK


RADIATIVE TRANSFER IN THE ATMOSPHERE AND OCEAN, G.E. Thomas and K. Stamnes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999. No. of pages xxvi + 517. Price 55.00 Pounds, US $85.00 (hardback). ISBN 0-521-401240


This book is a welcome addition to the rather sparse modern literature on radiative transfer.  Its title is, perhaps, something of a misnomer.  It is predominantly about the techniques of modelling radiative transfer, rather than a treatise on radiative processes in the atmosphere.  Hence, it is an addition to the classic text of R.M. Goody and Y.L. Yung (Atmospheric Radiation: Theoretical Basis, 2nd edn., Oxford University Press, 1989), rather than an alternative to it. 

            The book advertises itself as ‘a unified treatment of radiation within… the atmosphere and ocean’, but the text is predominantly atmospheric.  It starts by providing the context for studying radiation.  Given that the way radiation enters and leaves the Earth-atmosphere system determines the nature of the atmospheric circulation, and that radiative processes drive many of the climate change mechanisms and feedbacks, such a justification is not a difficult task.  We are taken on a necessary tour of the basic nomenclature and a basic description of the physical mechanisms that cause scattering and absorption.  The core of the book is four chapters concerned with setting up the formalism of the problem of modelling the passage of radiation through a scattering and absorbing medium, noting many of the approximations that are available.  One of the authors, Knut Stamnes, has been part of a team that has produced one of the most-used and most-respected pieces of public domain software in radiation, DISORT.  DISORT provides a solution to the radiative transfer using the discrete-ordinates method.  Not surprisingly therefore, DISORT features strongly in these sections, as the method of choice.  Once the mathematical framework has been established, the book then finishes with the application to more specific problems of solar and thermal infrared radiative transfer and applications to climate.

            The book is uncompromisingly written at a level that will only be accessible to those with some years of undergraduate physics or applied maths.  It may be of some use to final year undergraduates, as part of specialized projects, or, similarly, for Masters students, although the book is not really aimed for that many whom, in crowded syllabuses, have relatively few lectures on radiative transfer.  I would say that the book’s main audience will be post-graduates and post-doctoral researchers, for whom radiative transfer will form a substantial part of their work.  For such an audience, I would rate the book strongly; it combines mathematical rigour with a strongly supportive text that gives good insight into the physical processes.

            However, the book is not without its quirks.  One is the treatment of Mie Theory, which is the technique by which the scattering and absorbing properties of individual spherical particles are derived.  It is a difficult theory, but practitioners of radiative transfer, even if they do not understand the theory in detail, will understand how to apply it, and will develop an intuition based on its results.  Mie Theory occupies about one page, despite the fact that it is frequently referred to later in the text.   Students would have to look elsewhere to develop their intuition.  Similarly, the book is probably unnecessarily biased towards the discrete ordinate method.  Over recent years, there has been a massive growth in interest in techniques for modelling radiation in horizontally inhomogeneous clouds.  The Monte-Carlo method, which is the brute force technique for such situations, gets a mere half-a-page; and in the otherwise effective chapter notes, the references to the application of the method stop in the mid-1980s.  The effective half-way house between Monte-Carlo methods, the so-called Independent Pixel (or Column) Approximation, could have been introduced to give insight into one of the modern applications of radiative transfer.

            The biggest disappointment, though, was the use of the book as a resource.  The book has five appendices, but the preface advertises 14 additional ones, and other supplementary material, at an accompanying web-page (at  My hopes of finding a goldmine here were shattered when I visited it (on February 2000).  An unappealing page informs the visitor that ‘for now only two [of the 14 appendices] are available’.  More confusing still was that while the book makes extensive references to DISORT (and asks the student to use it in solving problems at the end of chapters), there was no link on how to acquire DISORT electronically.  I would have expected this, perhaps together with a public-domain Mie code, and links to the sites providing spectroscopic data.  Perhaps the book did mention how to obtain the software, but this passed me by.  The web site needs urgent attention, or the book modified to include a CD, if this book is to truly fulfill its function.  Despite these gripes, the book is certainly one that should grace the shelves of all libraries of institutes concerned with research and teaching in atmospheric and oceanic science and it is an important part of the radiative transfer armoury.