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Thermal Imaging

Deepali Gadkari
Thermal Energy
All bodies having
temperature more than
0°k or -273°C (absolute
zero), emit heat.
Thermal Infra Red is this
emitted energy.
Many multispectral (MSS) systems
sense radiation in the thermal
infrared as well as the visible and
reflected infrared portions of the
However, remote sensing of energy
emitted from the Earth's surface in
the thermal infrared (3 μm to 15 μm)
is different than the sensing of
reflected energy.
Spectral Range
There are two windows:
3µm to5 µm
8 µm to 14 µ m

3µm to 5 µm image is more

useful for interpretation. More
the emittance, the brighter
the image is.
Thermal Energy and Sensors

Thermal sensors use

photo detectors sensitive
to the direct contact of
photons on their surface,
to detect emitted thermal
Thermal Sensors
The detectors are cooled to
temperatures close to
absolute zero in order to limit
their own thermal emissions.
Thermal sensors essentially
measure the surface
temperature and thermal
properties of targets.
Thermal Imagers
Thermal imagers are
typically across-track
scanners that detect emitted
radiation in only the thermal
portion of the spectrum.
Thermal Sensors
Thermal sensors employ
one or more internal
temperature references for
comparison with the
detected radiation, so they
can be related to absolute
radiant temperature.
Recording Medium
The data are generally
recorded on film and/or
magnetic tape and the
temperature resolution of
current sensors can reach
0.1 °C.
For analysis, an image of
relative radiant
temperatures (a
thermogram) is depicted
in grey levels, with warmer
temperatures shown in
light tones, and cooler
temperatures in dark
Meteorological Purposes
For meteorological
purposes, this convention
is typically reversed so
that clouds (cooler than
the earth’s surface) appear
light toned.
Thermal Imagery

Imagery which portrays

relative temperature
differences in their
relative spatial locations
are sufficient for most
Absolute temperature
measurements may be
calculated but require
accurate calibration and
measurement of the
temperature references and
detailed knowledge of the
thermal properties of the
target, geometric distortions,
and radiometric effects.
Interactions with Atmosphere

Because of the relatively long

wavelength of thermal
radiation (compared to visible
radiation), atmospheric
scattering is minimal.
However, absorption by
atmospheric gases normally
restricts thermal sensing to
two specific regions - 3 to 5
IFOV of Thermal Sensors
Because energy decreases
as the wavelength
increases, thermal sensors
generally have large IFOVs
to ensure that enough
energy reaches the
detector in order to make
Spatial Resolution of Thermal
Therefore the spatial
resolution of thermal
sensors is usually fairly
coarse, relative to the
spatial resolution
possible in the visible
and reflected infrared.
All-Time Sensing
Thermal imagery can be
acquired during the day or
night (because the radiation is
emitted not reflected) and is
used for a variety of
applications such as military
reconnaissance, disaster
management (forest fire
mapping), and heat loss
Most thermal scanning
operations, such as geologic and
soil mapping are qualitative in
nature. In these cases, it is not
usually necessary to know
absolute ground temperatue and
emissivities, but simply to study
relative differences in the radiant
temperatures within a scene.
Some thermal scanning
operations require
quantitative data analysis
for determining absolute
temperatures – e.g.
thermal scanning for
monitoring surface water
temperature of the effluent
from a nuclear power
Fields of application
Determining rock type and
Locating geological fault
Mapping soil type and soil
Locating irrigation canal
Determining the thermal
characteristics of volcanoes
Fields of application
Studying evapotranspiration
from vegetation
Locating cold-water spring
Locating hot-water springs and
Determining the extent and
characteristics of thermal plumes

How would thermal imagery be useful in an urban environment?

Detecting and monitoring
heat loss from buildings
in urban areas is an
excellent application of
thermal remote sensing.
Heating costs,
particularly in northern
countries such as
Canada, can be very
Extra Shots
Thermal imaging in both residential
and commercial areas allows us to
identify specific buildings, or parts of
buildings, where heat is escaping. If
the amount of heat is significant,
these areas can be targeted for
repair and re-insulation to reduce
costs and conserve energy.