# Reflectance

Spectral reflectance curves for aluminium (Al), silver (Ag), and gold (Au) metal mirrors at normal incidence.

Reflectance of the surface of a material is its effectiveness in reflecting radiant energy. It is the fraction of incident electromagnetic power that is reflected at an interface. The reflectance spectrum or spectral reflectance curve is the plot of the reflectance as a function of wavelength.

## Mathematical definitions

### Hemispherical reflectance

Hemispherical reflectance of a surface, denoted R, is defined as[1]

$R = \frac{\Phi_\mathrm{e}^\mathrm{r}}{\Phi_\mathrm{e}^\mathrm{i}},$

where

• Φer is the radiant flux reflected by that surface;

### Spectral hemispherical reflectance

Spectral hemispherical reflectance in frequency and spectral hemispherical reflectance in wavelength of a surface, denoted Rν and Rλ respectively, are defined as[1]

$R_\nu = \frac{\Phi_{\mathrm{e},\nu}^\mathrm{r}}{\Phi_{\mathrm{e},\nu}^\mathrm{i}},$
$R_\lambda = \frac{\Phi_{\mathrm{e},\lambda}^\mathrm{r}}{\Phi_{\mathrm{e},\lambda}^\mathrm{i}},$

where

### Directional reflectance

Directional reflectance of a surface, denoted RΩ, is defined as[1]

$R_\Omega = \frac{L_{\mathrm{e},\Omega}^\mathrm{r}}{L_{\mathrm{e},\Omega}^\mathrm{i}},$

where

• Le,Ωr is the radiance reflected by that surface;

### Spectral directional reflectance

Spectral directional reflectance in frequency and spectral directional reflectance in wavelength of a surface, denoted Rν,Ω and Rλ,Ω respectively, are defined as[1]

$R_{\nu,\Omega} = \frac{L_{\mathrm{e},\Omega,\nu}^\mathrm{r}}{L_{\mathrm{e},\Omega,\nu}^\mathrm{i}},$
$R_{\lambda,\Omega} = \frac{L_{\mathrm{e},\Omega,\lambda}^\mathrm{r}}{L_{\mathrm{e},\Omega,\lambda}^\mathrm{i}},$

where

## Reflectivity

Fresnel reflection coefficients for a boundary surface between air and a variable material in dependence of the complex refractive index and the angle of incidence.
"Reflectivity" redirects here. For the EM formulation, see Fresnel power reflection.

For homogeneous and semi-infinite (see halfspace) materials, reflectivity is the same as reflectance. Reflectivity is the square of the magnitude of the Fresnel reflection coefficient,[2] which is the ratio of the reflected to incident electric field;[3] as such the reflection coefficient can be expressed as a complex number as determined by the Fresnel equations for a single layer, whereas the reflectance is always a positive real number.

For layered and finite media, according to the CIE,[citation needed] reflectivity is distinguished from reflectance by the fact that reflectivity is a value that applies to thick reflecting objects.[4] When reflection occurs from thin layers of material, internal reflection effects can cause the reflectance to vary with surface thickness. Reflectivity is the limit value of reflectance as the sample becomes thick; it is the intrinsic reflectance of the surface, hence irrespective of other parameters such as the reflectance of the rear surface. Another way to interpret this is that the reflectance is the fraction of electromagnetic power reflected from a specific sample, while reflectivity is a property of the material itself, which would be measured on a perfect machine if the material filled half of all space.[5]

## Surface type

Going back to the fact that reflectance is a directional property, most surfaces can be divided into those that give specular reflection and those that give diffuse reflection:

• for specular surfaces, such as glass or polished metal, reflectance will be nearly zero at all angles except at the appropriate reflected angle; that is, reflected radiation will follow a different path from incident radiation for all cases other than radiation normal to the surface;
• for diffuse surfaces, such as matte white paint, reflectance is uniform; radiation is reflected in all angles equally or near-equally. Such surfaces are said to be Lambertian.

Most real objects have some mixture of diffuse and specular reflective properties.

## Water reflectance

Reflectance of smooth water at 20°C (refractive index 1.333).

Reflection occurs when light moves from a medium with one index of refraction into a second medium with a different index of refraction.

Specular reflection from a body of water is calculated by the Fresnel equations.[6] Fresnel reflection is directional and therefore does not contribute significantly to albedo which is primarily diffuse reflection.

A real water surface may be wavy. Reflectance assuming a flat surface as given by the Fresnel equations can be adjusted to account for waviness.

## Grating efficiency

The generalization of reflectance to a diffraction grating, which disperses light by wavelength, is called diffraction efficiency.

## Applications

Reflectance is an important concept in the fields of optics, solar thermal energy, telecommunication and radar.

Quantity Unit Dimension Notes
Name Symbol[nb 1] Name Symbol Symbol
Radiant energy density we joule per cubic metre J/m3 ML−1T−2 Radiant energy per unit volume.
Radiant flux Φe[nb 2] watt W or J/s ML2T−3 Radiant energy emitted, reflected, transmitted or received, per unit time. This is sometimes also called "radiant power".
Spectral flux Φe,ν[nb 3]
or
Φe,λ[nb 4]
watt per hertz
or
watt per metre
W/Hz
or
W/m
ML2T−2
or
MLT−3
Radiant flux per unit frequency or wavelength. The latter is commonly measured in W⋅sr−1⋅m−2⋅nm−1.
Radiant intensity Ie,Ω[nb 5] watt per steradian W/sr ML2T−3 Radiant flux emitted, reflected, transmitted or received, per unit solid angle. This is a directional quantity.
Spectral intensity Ie,Ω,ν[nb 3]
or
Ie,Ω,λ[nb 4]
or
W⋅sr−1⋅Hz−1
or
W⋅sr−1⋅m−1
ML2T−2
or
MLT−3
Radiant intensity per unit frequency or wavelength. The latter is commonly measured in W⋅sr−1⋅m−2⋅nm−1. This is a directional quantity.
Radiance Le,Ω[nb 5] watt per steradian per square metre W⋅sr−1⋅m−2 MT−3 Radiant flux emitted, reflected, transmitted or received by a surface, per unit solid angle per unit projected area. This is a directional quantity. This is sometimes also confusingly called "intensity".
or
Le,Ω,λ[nb 4]
watt per steradian per square metre per hertz
or
watt per steradian per square metre, per metre
W⋅sr−1⋅m−2⋅Hz−1
or
W⋅sr−1⋅m−3
MT−2
or
ML−1T−3
Radiance of a surface per unit frequency or wavelength. The latter is commonly measured in W⋅sr−1⋅m−2⋅nm−1. This is a directional quantity. This is sometimes also confusingly called "spectral intensity".
Irradiance Ee[nb 2] watt per square metre W/m2 MT−3 Radiant flux received by a surface per unit area. This is sometimes also confusingly called "intensity".
or
Ee,λ[nb 4]
watt per square metre per hertz
or
watt per square metre, per metre
W⋅m−2⋅Hz−1
or
W/m3
MT−2
or
ML−1T−3
Irradiance of a surface per unit frequency or wavelength. The former is commonly measured in 10−22 W⋅m−2⋅Hz−1, known as solar flux unit, and the latter in W⋅m−2⋅nm−1.[nb 6] This is sometimes also confusingly called "spectral intensity".
Radiosity Je[nb 2] watt per square metre W/m2 MT−3 Radiant flux leaving (emitted, reflected and transmitted by) a surface per unit area. This is sometimes also confusingly called "intensity".
or
Je,λ[nb 4]
watt per square metre per hertz
or
watt per square metre, per metre
W⋅m−2⋅Hz−1
or
W/m3
MT−2
or
ML−1T−3
Radiosity of a surface per unit frequency or wavelength. The latter is commonly measured in W⋅m−2⋅nm−1. This is sometimes also confusingly called "spectral intensity".
Radiant exitance Me[nb 2] watt per square metre W/m2 MT−3 Radiant flux emitted by a surface per unit area. This is the emitted component of radiosity. "Radiant emittance" is an old term for this quantity. This is sometimes also confusingly called "intensity".
Spectral exitance Me,ν[nb 3]
or
Me,λ[nb 4]
watt per square metre per hertz
or
watt per square metre, per metre
W⋅m−2⋅Hz−1
or
W/m3
MT−2
or
ML−1T−3
Radiant exitance of a surface per unit frequency or wavelength. The latter is commonly measured in W⋅m−2⋅nm−1. "Spectral emittance" is an old term for this quantity. This is sometimes also confusingly called "spectral intensity".
Radiant exposure He joule per square metre J/m2 MT−2 Radiant energy received by a surface per unit area, or equivalently irradiance of a surface integrated over time of irradiation. This is sometimes also called "radiant fluence".
Spectral exposure He,ν[nb 3]
or
He,λ[nb 4]
joule per square metre per hertz
or
joule per square metre, per metre
J⋅m−2⋅Hz−1
or
J/m3
MT−1
or
ML−1T−2
Radiant exposure of a surface per unit frequency or wavelength. The latter is commonly measured in J⋅m−2⋅nm−1. This is sometimes also called "spectral fluence".
Hemispherical emissivity ε 1 Radiant exitance of a surface, divided by that of a black body at the same temperature as that surface.
Spectral hemispherical emissivity εν
or
ελ
1 Spectral exitance of a surface, divided by that of a black body at the same temperature as that surface.
Directional emissivity εΩ 1 Radiance emitted by a surface, divided by that emitted by a black body at the same temperature as that surface.
Spectral directional emissivity εΩ,ν
or
εΩ,λ
1 Spectral radiance emitted by a surface, divided by that of a black body at the same temperature as that surface.
Hemispherical absorptance A 1 Radiant flux absorbed by a surface, divided by that received by that surface. This should not be confused with "absorbance".
Spectral hemispherical absorptance Aν
or
Aλ
1 Spectral flux absorbed by a surface, divided by that received by that surface. This should not be confused with "spectral absorbance".
Directional absorptance AΩ 1 Radiance absorbed by a surface, divided by the radiance incident onto that surface. This should not be confused with "absorbance".
Spectral directional absorptance AΩ,ν
or
AΩ,λ
1 Spectral radiance absorbed by a surface, divided by the spectral radiance incident onto that surface. This should not be confused with "spectral absorbance".
Hemispherical reflectance R 1 Radiant flux reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Spectral hemispherical reflectance Rν
or
Rλ
1 Spectral flux reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Directional reflectance RΩ 1 Radiance reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Spectral directional reflectance RΩ,ν
or
RΩ,λ
1 Spectral radiance reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Hemispherical transmittance T 1 Radiant flux transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Spectral hemispherical transmittance Tν
or
Tλ
1 Spectral flux transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Directional transmittance TΩ 1 Radiance transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Spectral directional transmittance TΩ,ν
or
TΩ,λ
1 Spectral radiance transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.
Hemispherical attenuation coefficient μ reciprocal metre m−1 L−1 Radiant flux absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.
Spectral hemispherical attenuation coefficient μν
or
μλ
reciprocal metre m−1 L−1 Spectral radiant flux absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.
Directional attenuation coefficient μΩ reciprocal metre m−1 L−1 Radiance absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.
Spectral directional attenuation coefficient μΩ,ν
or
μΩ,λ
reciprocal metre m−1 L−1 Spectral radiance absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.
1. ^ Standards organizations recommend that radiometric quantities should be denoted with suffix "e" (for "energetic") to avoid confusion with photometric or photon quantities.
2. Alternative symbols sometimes seen: W or E for radiant energy, P or F for radiant flux, I for irradiance, W for radiant exitance.
3. Spectral quantities given per unit frequency are denoted with suffix "ν" (Greek)—not to be confused with suffix "v" (for "visual") indicating a photometric quantity.
4. Spectral quantities given per unit wavelength are denoted with suffix "λ" (Greek).
5. ^ a b Directional quantities are denoted with suffix "Ω" (Greek).
6. ^ NOAA / Space Weather Prediction Center includes a definition of the solar flux unit (SFU).