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A generalization of the Stokes parameters of a random electromagnetic beam is introduced. Unlike the usual Stokes parameters, which depend on one spatial variable, the generalized Stokes parameters, depend on two spatial variables. They obey precise laws of propagation, both in free space and in any linear medium, whether deterministic or random. With the help of the generalized Stokes parameters, the changes in the ordinary Stokes parameters upon propagation can be determined. Numerical examples of such changes are presented. The generalized Stokes parameters contain information not only about the polarization properties of the beam but also about its coherence properties. We illustrate this fact by expressing the degree of coherence of the electromagnetic beam in terms of one of the generalized Stokes parameters.


This paper was published in Optics Letters and is made available as an electronic reprint with the permission of OSA. The paper can be found at the following URL on the OSA website: Systematic or multiple reproduction or distribution to multiple locations via electronic or other means is prohibited and is subject to penalties under law.

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