Deterministic or statistical inversion schemes to retrieve ocean color from space often use a simplified water reflectance model that may introduce unrealistic constraints on the solution, a disadvantage compared with standard, two-step algorithms that make minimal assumptions about the water signal. In view of this, the semi-analytical models of Morel and Maritorena (2001), MM01, and Park and Ruddick (2005), PR05, used in the spectral matching POLYMER algorithm (Steinmetz et al., 2011), are examined in terms of their ability to restitute properly, i.e., with sufficient accuracy, water reflectance. The approach is to infer water reflectance at MODIS wavelengths, as in POLYMER, from theoretical simulations (using Hydrolight with fluorescence and Raman scattering) and, separately, from measurements (AERONET-OC network). A wide range of Case 1 and Case 2 waters, except extremely turbid waters, are included in the simulations and sampled in the measurements. The reflectance model parameters that give the best fit with the simulated data or the measurements are determined. The accuracy of the reconstructed water reflectance and its effect on the retrieval of inherent optical properties (IOPs) is quantified. The impact of cloud and aerosol transmittance, fixed to unity in the POLYMER scheme, on model performance is also evaluated. Agreement is generally good between model results and Hydrolight simulations or AERONET-OC values, even in optically complex waters, with discrepancies much smaller than typical atmospheric correction errors. Significant differences exist in some cases, but having a more intricate model (i.e., using more parameters) makes convergence more difficult. The trade-off is between efficiency/robustness and accuracy. Notable errors are obtained when using the model estimates to retrieve IOPs. Importantly, the model parameters that best fit the input data, in particular chlorophyll-a concentration, do not represent adequately actual values. The reconstructed water reflectance should be used in bio-optical algorithms. While neglecting cloud and aerosol transmittances degrades the accuracy of the reconstructed water reflectance and the retrieved IOPs, it negligibly affects water reflectance ratios and, therefore, any variable derived from such ratios.
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