Quantcast Tropospheric propagation troposphere is characterized by a steady decrease in both temperature and pressure as height is increased. However, the many changes in weather phenomena cause variations in humidity and an uneven heating of the Earth's surface.">

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As the lowest region of the Earth's atmosphere, the troposphere extends from the Earth's surface to a height of slightly over 7 miles. Virtually all weather phenomena occur in this region. Generally, the troposphere is characterized by a steady decrease in both temperature and pressure as height is increased. However, the many changes in weather phenomena cause variations in humidity and an uneven heating of the Earth's surface. As a result, the air in the troposphere is in constant motion. This motion causes small turbulences, or eddies, to be formed, as shown by the bouncing of aircraft entering turbulent areas of the atmosphere. These turbulences are most intense near the Earth's surface and gradually diminish with height. They have a refractive quality that permits the refracting or scattering of radio waves with short wavelengths. This scattering provides enhanced communications at higher frequencies.

Recall that in the relationship between frequency and wavelength, wavelength decreases as frequency increases and vice versa. Radio waves of frequencies below 30 megahertz normally have wavelengths longer than the size of weather turbulences. These radio waves are, therefore, affected very little by the turbulences. On the other hand, as the frequency increases into the vhf range and above, the wavelengths decrease in size, to the point that they become subject to tropospheric scattering. The usable frequency range for tropospheric scattering is from about 100 megahertz to 10 gigahertz.


When a radio wave passing through the troposphere meets a turbulence, it makes an abrupt change in velocity. This causes a small amount of the energy to be scattered in a forward direction and returned to Earth at distances beyond the horizon. This phenomenon is repeated as the radio wave meets other turbulences in its path. The total received signal is an accumulation of the energy received from each of the turbulences.

This scattering mode of propagation enables vhf and uhf signals to be transmitted far beyond the normal line-of-sight. To better understand how these signals are transmitted over greater distances, you must first consider the propagation characteristics of the space wave used in vhf and uhf line-of-sight communications. When the space wave is transmitted, it undergoes very little attenuation within the line-of-sight horizon. When it reaches the horizon, the wave is diffracted and follows the Earth's curvature. Beyond the horizon, the rate of attenuation increases very rapidly and signals soon become very weak and unusable.

Tropospheric scattering, on the other hand, provides a usable signal at distances beyond the point where the diffracted space wave drops to an unusable level. This is because of the height at which scattering takes place. The turbulence that causes the scattering can be visualized as a relay station located above the horizon; it receives the transmitted energy and then reradiates it in a forward direction to some point beyond the line-of-sight distance. A high gain receiving antenna aimed toward this scattered energy can then capture it.

The magnitude of the received signal depends on the number of turbulences causing scatter in the desired direction and the gain of the receiving antenna. The scatter area used for tropospheric scatter is known as the scatter volume. The angle at which the receiving antenna must be aimed to capture the scattered energy is called the scatter angle. The scatter volume and scatter angle are shown in figure 2-26.

Figure 2-26. - Tropospheric scattering propagation.

The signal take-off angle (transmitting antenna's angle of radiation) determines the height of the scatter volume and the size of the scatter angle. A low signal take-off angle produces a low scatter volume, which in turn permits a receiving antenna that is aimed at a low angle to the scatter volume to capture the scattered energy.

As the signal take-off angle is increased, the height of the scatter volume is increased. When this occurs, the amount of received energy decreases. There are two reasons for this: (1) scatter angle increases as the height of the scatter volume is increased; (2) the amount of turbulence decreases with height. As the distance between the transmitting and receiving antennas is increased, the height of the scatter volume must also be increased. The received signal level, therefore, decreases as circuit distance is increased.

The tropospheric region that contributes most strongly to tropospheric scatter propagation lies near the midpoint between the transmitting and receiving antennas and just above the radio horizon of the antennas.

Since tropospheric scatter depends on turbulence in the atmosphere, changes in atmospheric conditions have an effect on the strength of the received signal. Both daily and seasonal variations in signal strength occur as a result of changes in the atmosphere. These variations are called long-term fading.

In addition to long-term fading, the tropospheric scatter signal often is characterized by very rapid fading because of multipath propagation. Since the turbulent condition is constantly changing, the path lengths and individual signal levels are also changing, resulting in a rapidly changing signal. Although the signal level of the received signal is constantly changing, the average signal level is stable; therefore, no complete fade out occurs.

Another characteristic of a tropospheric scatter signal is its relatively low power level. Since very little of the scattered energy is reradiated toward the receiver, the efficiency is very low and the signal level at the final receiver point is low. Initial input power must be high to compensate for the low efficiency in the scatter volume. This is accomplished by using high-power transmitters and high-gain antennas, which concentrate the transmitted power into a beam, thus increasing the intensity of energy of each turbulence in the volume. The receiver must also be very sensitive to detect the low-level signals.


Tropospheric scatter propagation is used for point-to-point communications. A correctly designed tropospheric scatter circuit will provide highly reliable service for distances ranging from 50 miles to 500 miles. Tropospheric scatter systems may be particularly useful for communications to locations in rugged terrain that are difficult to reach with other methods of propagation. One reason for this is that the tropospheric scatter circuit is not affected by ionospheric and auroral disturbances.

Q.46 In what layer of the atmosphere does virtually all weather phenomena occur? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.47 Which radio frequency bands use the tropospheric scattering principle for propagation of radio waves? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.48 Where is the tropospheric region that contributes most strongly to tropospheric scatter propagation? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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