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PRINCIPLES OF REMOTE SENSING Is remote sensing a science or a technology?
The simple answer is both science and technology. Understanding remote sensing science is important if you are to interpret and benefit from the data that are recorded and delivered by the technology. Limitations to the technology, however, mean that we users cannot access all of the data that would, theoretically, provide us with ideal solutions. This section introduces sources of electromagnetic radiation and the next section explains the theory of how electromagnetic radiation interacts with Earth surface phenomena. Ultimately these interactions determine the signal recorded by a sensor. Section 4 will introduce you to the range of platforms and sensor configurations that have been launched and highlight some of the technical constraints on data acquisition and processing. Taken together these sections can be referred to as the ‘remote sensing system’ (Figure 2.1).
What is electromagnetic radiation (EMR)? What are its properties? Where does it come from? The first question is simple to answer: electromagnetic radiation is a form of energy. Remote sensing is concerned with the measurement and interpretation of EMR values. The other two questions require a bit more explanation.
It is fortunate for us that objects interact differently with EMR. 2.3 Properties of electromagnetic radiation Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) travels in the form of waves. then plane waves are characterised as having a constant phase over a plane perpendicular to the direction in which the wave is travelling. Remote sensing is usually most concerned with wavelength.2 . Plane waves are the forms of EMR wave energy in free space. If we want to be technical. Plane waves may be described by wavelength (λ). and those EMR waves reflected by or emitted or backscattered from objects give us information about the objects themselves.2). amplitude (A) and phase (L) (Figure 2. Let us start by exploring some of the properties of EMR. As we will see later these interactions determine the level of energy recorded by a sensor.1: The ‘source-target-sensor’ remote sensing system 2.2: Principles of Remote Sensing Figure 2.
amplitude and phase of plane waves Figure 2.4 micrometers is equivalent to 400 nanometers.7 x 10-6m). such that the visible 2. to very long radio waves of 3 x106 m wavelength (Figure 2.4-0. Visible and infrared remote sensing normally only use wavelength to denote the range of plane waves.that is.3).3: The electromagnetic spectrum Plane waves all travel at the velocity of light c. As their velocity is constant then the frequency of plane waves is inversely proportional to their wavelength . as the wavelength becomes shorter then more waves pass a point in a given time period so the measured frequency is greater. but work in microwave remote sensing commonly employs both wavelength and frequency. You may also find reference to nanometers -9 (10 ).1 gives the wavelengths and. frequencies commonly found in remote sensing Note that the most commonly used units for optical remote sensing are micrometres (10-6m). Table 2. which is approximately 300 million metres per second (ms -1).3 . A wavelength of 0. Converting between the two scales is straightforward.2: Wavelength. and have wavelengths which range from 3 x10-9 m (gamma rays) through visible light (0. where appropriate.2: Principles of Remote Sensing Figure 2.
1.5 µm 0.1) where λmax is the wavelength of maximum energy emission. λmax Lamp = 2898/3000 λmax Sun = 2898/6000 Wien’s Displacement Law describes the relationship between temperature and the wavelength of maximum energy emission.38 mm 38 . T is the temperature of the object (deg K).2 : Principles of Remote Sensing part of the EM spectrum is between 400 nm – 700 nm.0. Table 2.75 mm 150 .2.6000 K is approximately 0. The hotter the body then the shorter the wavelength of maximum energy emission. For example.7 .5 µm 2. it is apparent 2.5 GHz 8 .0 µm 8.0 . and a is a constant (2898 µm K).12.5 µm 1.300 mm 24 .2 GHz note: 1 µm = 10-6 m (1 micrometre = one millionth of a metre) 1 µm = 1000 nm (1 micrometre = one thousand nanometres) 2.0 µm (very near infrared). However.8.5 GHz 4 .8 GHz 1 . Optical remote sensing is a term used to describe remote sensing at visible and near infrared wavelengths. the λmax of an incandescent lamp with a filament at a temperature of 3000 K is about 1.7 .12.55 µm (visible).4 Sources of electromagnetic radiation All bodies with temperatures above absolute zero (0K or -273oC) emit EM radiation.4 .5 .2 . By using Wien’s Law the temperature of an object can be measured remotely by observing its spectrum and identifying the wavelength of maximum energy emission (λmax).1: Wavelengths and frequencies used in satellite remote sensing EM region Ultra violet Visible Near infrared Very near infrared Shortwave infrared Middle infrared Thermal infrared Microwave X-band C-band L-band Wavelength <0.300 mm Frequency 1 .4µm 0.5 . radar remote sensing operates at microwave frequencies.7 µm 0.14 µm 10 . while the λmax of the Sun with a surface temperature of c. The temperature of the object determines the wavelength of maximum EM energy emission according to Wien’s Displacement Law: λmax = a / T (Equation 2.1.
Figure 2.1 (time: 30 minutes) Calculate the wavelength of: .2 : Principles of Remote Sensing that objects emit energy over a spectrum of wavelengths.4: Wien’s Displacement law: the relationship between the temperature of an object and the wavelength of maximum electromagnetic energy emission.the maximum energy emission for the Earth which has a surface temperature of approximately 288K .lava erupting from a volcano at 1100K Which of the following wavelengths would you use to measure the brightness temperature of sea surfaces? a) visible.3 . or c) thermal infrared? Answers to this exercise can be found in the 'Exercise Answers' section in the Contents menu. 2. the Sun emits maximum energy at visible wavelengths but it also emits thermal energy. This equation is known as Planck's Radiation Law. If the source object is a perfectly emitting surface then we can apply another equation from physics to calculate the energy emitted at any wavelength. Continuous Self Assessed Exercise 2. b) short wave infrared. For example.
When a blackbody is being measured then ε = 1 so can be disregarded. The first component of the right hand side of the equation consists entirely of constants (π.38 x 10-23 JK1) velocity of light (3 x 108 ms-1) wavelength of energy (Å) absolute temperature of the blackbody (deg K) Equation 2. From Figure 2. but in most cases (for example.2 is written for one wavelength λ. For a blackbody the emission of EM radiation at a wavelength is defined by Planck’s Radiation Law: E λ = 2πhc2 / λ 5 * 1/e hc/λkT -1 where.98 for water and 0.95 for wet loamy soil.4) which is the Stefan-Boltzmann Law and σ is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant (5.4 should be written in full as: E = εσT4 (Equation 2. c.4 . The Earth and the Sun are blackbodies.90 for sandy soil. so the equation can be simplified to: E = σT4 (Equation 2. E h k c λ T = = = = = = (Equation 2. It can be integrated for all wavelengths to give the total power radiated per unit area of a blackbody (E): E = 2π5k4 / 15c 2h3 * T4 (Equation 2. k.5 it is clear that hotter bodies emit more energy and at a shorter wavelength than do cooler bodies. A measurement of E will therefore give a measurement of a combination of T and ε.2) radiant energy (in Wm-2 A-1) Planck’s constant (6.67 x 10-8 Wm-2K-4 ).266 x 10-34 Js) Boltzmann’s constant (1. cirrus clouds) ε is less than 1 so its effects must be known before T can be calculated.1 Blackbody radiation A blackbody is not necessarily black but an object whose emissivity (ε) is 1: that is. 2.5) to include the emissivity ε. 0. h). 0.4.99 for vegetation with a closed canopy (Curran. However.3) in Wm-2. Equation 2. 1985). it has perfect emittance and emits all the energy it absorbs.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing 2. Emissivities for typical objects at 300 K range from 0.
Note: the total radiant exitance is given by the area under a spectral radiant exitance curve (E) Source: modified from Lillesand and Kiefer (1994).5: Spectral distribution of energy radiated from blackbodies at various temperatures (E λ). Does all this sound terribly complicated to you? No need to panic.5 .2 : Principles of Remote Sensing Figure 2. you’re not alone if it does. For most purposes you can summarise these equations by saying that: ü ü ü ü ü waves with a short wavelength have a high frequency waves with a short wavelength have high energy objects with a temperature above absolute zero radiate a spectrum of waves objects with a high temperature radiate more waves with a short wavelength total emitted energy increases exponentially with temperature Two things which may help you to remember these principles are: 2. Very few end-users have the necessary background in physics to fully understand the importance of these equations at the first time of asking.
some absorption at 0.2).0 µm and 3. namely the Sun. weaker absorption at 2.2: Absorption characteristics of major atmospheric gases Atmospheric gas Oxygen and ozone oxygen atoms and molecules ozone Carbon dioxide Chemical composition O.36 µm strong absorption at 15 µm. O2 O3 CO2 Wavelength of absorption Water vapour H2 O < 0.4.0.g. steep hills than to wander over gently undulating terrain (waves with a high frequency/short wavelength have high energy).1 µm 0.6 .7µm). Other animals have developed different sensors for ‘seeing’ e.4µm . 2. human eyesight has.32 .1 . a target (the Earth’s surface) and a sensor on board a satellite.5 µm strong absorption at 6 µm. 2. The limitations of human eyesight are most obvious at night when the main source of visible light is unavailable.0 µm. It follows that the Sun must have peak emittance at short visible wavelengths (0. evolved to use energy radiated by the hottest and hence most powerful source of EM energy in our part of the universe. The space between these components is occupied by free space and the Earth’s atmosphere.3 µm and 0.5 µm and 4.2 Absorption of radiation by the atmosphere The simple geometry of a satellite remote sensing system (Figure 2.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing (i) when out walking it takes a lot more effort to climb up and down a series of short. Table 2.1) shows the relative positions of a source of radiation (the Sun).0.2. The Earth’s atmosphere absorbs radiation at a wide range of wavelengths because of the large number of gases present in the atmosphere (Table 2.6 .0. and it is the latter which interferes with radiation as it passes from the Sun to the Earth and the Earth to the satellite sensor. not surprisingly. (ii) Although most remote sensing systems rely on solar energy illuminating the Earth’s surface we should remember that that energy has first to travel from the Sun to the Earth surface and will be affected by the atmosphere it passes through. bats use a sonic system.
7 . Ozone depletion has been monitored by the Total Ozone Mapping Satellite (TOMS) mission based on the observation that less radiation at very short ultraviolet wavelengths (0. To find out more about UV radiation and how it affects life on Earth visit the Earth Observatory web site : 2.6 shows that the visible/near infrared. This is leading to increasing concern about the possibility of skin cancers for people exposed to these higher doses. namely the discovery of the ‘ozone hole’ by satellite remote sensing (Figure 2. middle infrared and thermal infrared regions all feature windows of high transmission in a spectrum which in other parts shows high absorption of radiation. It is widely known that stratospheric ozone depletion due to human activities has resulted in an increase of ultraviolet radiation on the Earth's surface. most significantly over the arctic regions.1 µm – 0.3 µm) was being absorbed by the atmosphere.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing Gases absorb radiation at specific wavelengths which modifies the characteristics of incoming solar radiation and radiation reflected from targets towards satellite sensors.7 illustrates the growth of the ozone hole 1979-1985). Figure 2. remote sensing missions avoid these absorption areas and exploit those wavelengths which have high transmission through the atmosphere. Figure 2. Ozone absorbs UV radiation and so less absorption means that more UV radiation is transmitted through to the Earth’s surface.6: Atmospheric windows for remote sensing The Ozone hole Whilst on the subject of atmospheric absorption I hope that you don’t mind if I indulge myself with a little bit of topical science. Not surprisingly.
In this unit you will study passive remote sensing systems at visible and near infrared wavelengths. The sensor then records the reflected energy as it has been altered by the target.3 Active and passive remote sensing So far in this unit we have only identified the Sun as a source of EMR for remote sensing. middle. The article describes some effects on human health.7: the growth of the Antarctic ozone hole 2. What you now need to understand is how different targets interact with EMR at these wavelengths so that we can determine 2. The first model involves the measurement of reflected solar radiation whilst the second model relies on measuring thermal energy emitted from the Earth’s surface.and thermal infrared regions of the EM spectrum. The sonic system of the bat is an example of active remote sensing since the bat is both the source of and sensor for the signal.8 .nasa. aquatic ecosystems. and explains how much ultraviolet radiation we are currently getting and how we measure it. near-. Figure 2.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing http://earthobservatory.4. The term active remote sensing relates to the use of an artificial source of EMR emitted by the sensor to illuminate the target. agricultural plants and other living things. Atmospheric windows determine that successful Earth observation by passive remote sensing is only possible at particular wavelengths within visible.gov/Library/UVB. Most active systems for remote sensing are radar systems which operate at microwave wavelengths. Campbell called this the third model of remote sensing.
b) Redraw Figure 2. Various fractions of the incident energy are reflected.1. Answers can be found in the 'Exercise Answers' section of the Contents menu. Continuous Self Assessed Exercise 2.8). with all energy components being a function of wavelength. The diagram only represents passive models of remote sensing. Energy interaction with targets Where EM energy is incident upon any object there are three fundamental energy interactions that are possible. the remote sensing system. absorbed and/or transmitted (Figure 2. Applying the principle of conservation of energy we can state the interrelationship between these interactions as EI = ER + EA + ET where EI denotes the incident energy. 2.1 to distinguish between the two passive models of remote sensing. Label your diagram with sources of radiation (and their wavelengths of maximum emittance) and wavelengths of high transmittance through the atmospheric (atmospheric windows). 2. Draw a diagram to represent an active remote sensing system.9 .2 : Principles of Remote Sensing which properties of the Earth’s surface can be measured by remote sensing studies. ER denotes the reflected energy.5.2 a) Take another look at Figure 2. Label your diagram with the source of radiation. EA denotes the absorbed energy and ET denotes the transmitted energy.
the proportion of reflected.8: Interaction of electromagnetic energy with a target Three points concerning this relationship should be noted: First. such as sand. bright objects. let us consider the relative reflectance from a yellow object.9a). This is the principle of multispectral reflectance. These differences permit us to distinguish between objects in an image. hence a yellow object will have high reflectance at these wavelengths and relatively high absorption at blue wavelengths (Figure 2.10 . an object with high absorption at ‘green’ and ‘red’ wavelengths and high reflectance at `blue’ wavelengths will appear with a ‘blue’ colour to the human eye (Figure 2.9c). 2 . Second.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing Figure 2. absorbed and transmitted will vary for different targets depending on their material type and condition. such as tarmac.9b).10 illustrates combinations of primary (visible) wavelengths. Yellow is the product of EM energy at red and green wavelengths. For example. Green objects such as grass have higher reflectance at green wavelengths than at blue or red wavelengths (Figure 2. have higher reflectance than dull objects. Finally. Figure 2. absorbed and transmitted energy for a target will vary with wavelength. the proportions of energy reflected.
unless otherwise stated.11 .9: Relative proportions of blue. The full term for a measurement at a specified geometry is the bidirectional reflectance. (b) green and (c) yellow Figure 2. all remote sensing systems measure the fraction of reflected energy for specific illumination and view angles. in this unit we will use the term ‘reflectance’ for simplicity and. green and red EMR to produce (a) blue. However. 2 . we will assume sensor viewing a target at nadir.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing Figure 2.10: Primary colours and their combinations Third. such that the set of measurements at all geometries describes the bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF).
Explain the appearance of each object in terms of the amount of energy absorbed and reflected at blue.11).11: Colour aerial photograph of Buckingham Palace. 2 . grass and trees found on the aerial photograph of Buckingham Palace. London Before getting too carried away with the amazing powers of human eyesight you should remember that your vision is restricted to the visible part of the spectrum. You are unable to exploit differences in the reflectance of targets at other wavelengths such as infrared or ultraviolet. Answers can be found in the 'Exercise Answers' section in the Contents menu. Use the same approach to explain the appearance of concrete. London (Figure 2.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing Continuous Self Assessed Exercise 2. green and red wavelengths.12 .3 (time: 25 minutes) Tick the box that best describes the appearance of the sea when viewed from an aircraft? (Hue) Blue (Intensity) Bright Dark Green Red Use the same approach to describe other common objects such as that fashionable lime shirt wo rn by your colleague opposite or the (not so) gorgeous brown curtains at your grandma’s house. Figure 2.
Displaying visible and near infrared Earth observation data 2.1 (time: 45 minutes) Idrisi for Windows v2 Idrisi 32 Displaying visible and In this exercise you will display near infrared Earth and interpret single band Earth observation data observation images. absorption and transmittance properties of soil. absorbed or transmitted when it interacts with a target ∗ Earth observation is restricted to three spectral windows due to absorption by atmospheric gases 2 .6 What you have learnt in this section ∗ remote sensing measures electromagnetic radiation ∗ all objects are sources of electromagnetic radiation ∗ the Sun is the most powerful source for Earth observation at visible wavelengths ∗ Earth surfaces radiate energy at thermal wavelengths ∗ electromagnetic energy is reflected. In the next section you will investigate the reflectance. the principle of conservation of energy applies at all wavelengths and therefore by building instruments that record the level of reflected radiation we are able to exploit the information content across the entire EM spectrum.13 . Before reading the next section let’s have a quick preview of the differences in reflectance that you might expect to find in Earth observation data. Practical Exercise 2. water and vegetated surfaces at visible and near-infrared wavelengths.2 : Principles of Remote Sensing However.
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