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optical thickness

In calculating the transfer of radiant energy, the mass of an absorbing or emitting material lying in a vertical column of unit cross-sectional area and extending between two specified levels. Also, the degree to which a cloud prevents light from passing through it; the optical thickness then depends on the physical constitution (crystals, drops, and/or droplets), the form, the concentration, and the vertical extent of the cloud. Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)