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Spectral Signature of Vegetation and Water:

Spectra of surfaces
 Effective utilization of remotely sensed data requires good understanding of spectral
characteristics of ground features and factors that affect these spectral responses.
 We have to understand the fundamental energy-matter interactions that control and
influence the spectral responses and find out the temporal and spatial aspects related
to these interactions
 The spectral reflectance characteristics of four main types of environmental surface
will be discussed further:
o Vegetation
o Water and Snow
o Soil

Spectral reflectance curve

 The graph of spectral reflectance of an object as a function of wavelength is termed a
spectral reflectance curve.
 Spectral reflectance curves are generally collected in advance of a remote sensing
survey to help in both the identification of different surfaces and to decide on which
remote sensor should be used to observe them.

Spectral reflectance curves (Swain and Davis, 1978)

Spectra of vegetation
 Reflection from vegetation canopies is a function of complex sun-sensor-target
interaction phenomenon. Most canopies do not reflect the incident radiation equally in
all directions. This is because, in radiometric terms, vegetation canopies are complex
assemblages of different components, including leaves, other plant structures, soil
background, and shadow.
 Furthermore, these components exhibit different spatial locations, orientation and
extent as well as different optical properties. In the natural environment, the
characteristics of leaf reflectance play a dominant role in controlling the overall
reflectance from vegetation canopies.

Interaction of EMR with vegetation in visible, near infrared (NIR) and middle infrared
(MIR) region
 To understand interaction of EMR with vegetation, first we have to understand the
interaction of EMR with a typical leaf.
 Generally, a leaf is built up of layers of structural fibrous organic matter, within which
are pigmented, water filled cells and air spaces. Each of the following features have
an effect on the reflectance, absorbance and transmittance properties of a green leaf:
o Pigmentation
o Physiological Structure
o Water Content

Spectral characteristics for green vegetation (Swain and Davis, 1978)

Important observations from the above figure:
 Small peak at green wavelengths (0.55 µ m)
 Absorption band at red wavelengths (0.65 µ m)
 Near-infrared edge around 0.70 µ m
 Near-infrared plateau
 Water absorption bands (1.4 and 1.9 µ m)
 Black-body behaviour above 2. 5µ m

The figure has shown typical spectral properties of green leaves, from which the following
main observations emerge (Dikshit, 1992)
Spectral Range Properties
Low reflectance, low transmittance, high absorption mainly due
to chlorophyll centred in the blue (0.45 µm) and the red (0.67
Visible µm) wavelength zone, although other leaf pigments like
(0.4 µm - 0.7 µm) xanthophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanins also affect
absorption, and small peak centred at 0.55 µm in the yellow-
green region.
Low absorption, high reflectance, high transmittance as leaf
Near-infrared pigments and cellulose of cell walls are transparent. Near-
(0.7 µ m - 1.3 µm) infrared plateau between 0.7 and 1.3 µm and near-infrared edge
around 0.7 µm
Strong water absorption bands at 1.4, 1.9 and 2.7 µm
(1.3 µm - 2.5 µm)

 The uppermost leaves of vegetation reflect considerable part in NIR (up to 1.3 µm) and the
remainder is transmitted impinging the underlying leaves. The reflectance in NIR increases as
more leaves occur in the layers.
 The reflectance in NIR region gives information about the leaf area of vegetation, usually defined
as the leaf area index (total one-sided area of leaves per unit ground cover).
 In comparison to a single leaf, multiple leaf layers show even higher reflectance (up to 85%) in
NIR spectrum. As shown by the sketch, this is due to additive reflectance: energy transmitted
through the first (uppermost) layer of leaves and reflected from the second layer is partially
transmitted back through the first layer.
Reflectance from combination of cotton leaves stacked on one another, up to six leaves deep (Swain and
Davis, 1978)

(c) Water absorption in the near and middle infrared

There are three major water absorption bands that affect the reflectance spectra of healthy leaves (Swain
and Davis, 1978):

 Fundamental vibrational water absorption band at 2.7 µm

 Weaker absorption bands than fundamental vibrational water absorption band at 1.4 µm 1.9 µm
and dominate reflectance in MIR wavelengths

Two minor absorption bands at 0.96 and 1.1µm have significant impact, particularly for multiple layers of
Effect of moisture content on reflectance of corn leaves (Swain and Davis, 1978)
 Dry leaves show a considerably higher reflectance, in contrast to fresh ones, in the range from 1.3
to 2.5 µm and that dips in the spectral curves caused by water absorption disappear.
 Ratio of minimal reflectance caused by water and the maximum reflectance in the adjacent region
of the curve provides specific information on the moisture content of vegetation.
 In MIR wavelengths, reflectance peak occur at about 1.6 and 2.2 µm. The degree of absorption is a
function of total amount of water which in turn is a function of moisture content and leaf thickness.
 With decrease in moisture content, reflectance in MIR decreases markedly. However, when the
moisture content is very small, the increase in reflectance in water absorption bands could be
referred to as carryover effect where increased reflectance in the water absorption bands influences
or carries over to the wavelengths between the water-absorption bands, thus resulting in an
increased reflectance throughout the MIR region.

Spectra of Water
 Interaction of EMR with water is a function of nature of water and its conditions. Delineation of
water bodies can be done most easily in the NIR wavelengths while some aspects of water
conditions can be best assessed using data in visible wavelengths.
 In a natural setting, water bodies absorb nearly all incident energy in both NIR and MIR
wavelengths, even when it is very shallow helping a very clear identification compared to other
 In the visible portion, energy-matter interactions for water bodies is complex. For example, the
reflectance may involve contribution from reflectance from surface of water, from the bottom of
materials, or from the suspended materials within the water body.
 Similarly absorption and transmission characteristics are not only function of water per se, but are
also significantly affected by various types and sizes of materials in water, both organic and
Absorption & scattering characteristics of distilled water (Swain and Davis, 1978)
 Distilled water absorbs very little incoming energy in the visible range below 0.6 µm.
 Conversely, the transmission of incoming radiation in shorter wavelength region is very high.
 The transmission characteristics of very clear ocean and lake water are similar to those of distilled
 However, the transmittance of natural water decreases rather significantly as the level of turbidity
in water increases and that the wavelength for maximum transmittance shifts towards the longer
Transmission characteristics of different types of water (Swain and Davis, 1978)
 High transmission and low absorption characteristics of clean water suggests that where the water
bodies are relatively shallow and the water is very clear, the reflected energy that is recorded by
the sensor system operating in the shorter visible wavelengths must largely be a function of sand,
muck, rock, or whatever is on the bottom.
 Most accurate depth measurements in clear water can be obtained in the portion of spectrum where
transmittance is highest, at approximately 0.48 µm in the blue green portion of the spectrum. The
depth of penetration for clear water with Landsat imagery were estimated as: 10 m for 0.5 to 0.6
µm, 3 m for 0.6 to 0.7 µm, 1 m for 0.7 to 0.8 µm, and 10 cm for 0.8 to 1.1µm
 The best wavelength region for measurement of water depth is 0.5 to 0.6 µm, although it is only
suitable for depths from 5 to 15 m.