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TOA reflectance and NDVI calculation for Landsat 7


ETM+ images of Sicily
Claudio Parente
Department of Sciences and Technologies
University of Naples Parthenope
Naples, Italy
claudio.parente@uniparthenope.it

AbstractNDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) is


useful measure of live green vegetation obtained with remotely
sensed data. For its calculation two images concerning
reflectance of the scene in red and infrared bands are necessary.
Results can be classified to obtain land cover map distinguishing
three classes: waters (oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, ), soils (rocks,
buildings, roads, ) vegetation (forests, grasses, orchards, ).
Landsat 7 ETM+ images (band 3 and band 4) can be used for
NDVI calculation, but if data have been formatted to fit in 8-bit
numbers (ranges from 0-255), transformation is necessary to
obtain reflectance values. One of the solution is to consider top
of atmosphere (TOA) measurements: solar radiation incident on
the satellite sensor is derived by digital numbers. The aim of this
paper is to demonstrate the advantages of this transformation,
even if it doesnt supply the effective reflectance at soil: Landsat
ETM+ red and near-infrared images of Sicily were considered
and NDVI was calculated in two different ways, with and without
TOA transformation of original data. Results were compared to
remarks better performance of the first approach.
NDVI; TOA; Landsat 7 ETM+ images; reflectance; vegetation
map

I.

INTRODUCTION

Live green plants absorb solar radiation in the visible


spectral region (VIS), which they use as a source of energy in
the process of photosynthesis. Solar radiation in the nearinfrared (NIR) spectral region is reflected or transmitted by
leaves. For consequence live green plants appear relatively
dark in the VIS and relatively bright in the NIR [1], [2], [3].
On July 23, 1972 the first Earth Resources Technology
Satellite (ERTS) which was then renamed Landsat 1 was
launched with its MultiSpectral Scanner (MSS) for remote
sensing of our planet [4].
The transmitted images were used to examine the
vegetation of the Great Plains region of the central U.S. This
area extends from the southern landfill of Texas to the U.S.Canadian border, enclosing a wide range of latitudes and, for
consequence, of solar zenith angles at the time of the satellite
observations. At Remote Sensing Center of Texas A&M
University PhD student Donald Deering and his advisor Dr.
Robert Haas participated to Great Plain study and devoted
themselves to correlate the biophysical characteristics of the
rangeland vegetation of this region to the satellite spectral
signals: results were disturbed by differences in solar zenith

angle associated with the variability of latitude. Together with


the mathematician John Schell, they resolved this problem
considering the ratio of the difference of the red and nearinfrared radiances over their sum. This quantity was soon
named Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and
its use was reported in 1973 by Rouse et al. [5].
In the following years a wide range of practical remote
sensing applications based on NDVI was developed: a valid
contribute was supplied by Compton Tucker and his colleagues
of the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA; their work
culminated with NDVI map of Africa's vegetation on the cover
of Science in 1985 [6], [7].
NDVI values range from -1 to 1: water, clouds, and snow
have larger reflectance in Red than in NIR, so these features
present negative index values; rock and bare soil areas have
similar reflectances in the two bands and produce values near
zero; because of their relatively high near-infrared reflectance
and low red reflectance, vegetated areas generally return high
values.
Calculation of NDVI requires availability of two images of
the same scene, simultaneously acquired, one concerning the
reflectance in Red, the other in NIR. Many applications have
been conducted with Landsat data, so this program has
acquired a very important role to map land and vegetation
cover change [8].
II.

DATA AND METHODS

A. Landsat 7 ETM+ images


The Landsat Program is a joint effort of the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) to regularly acquire land
imagery from space. Landsat 7 satellite, launched on April 15,
1999, is still operational: moving in a descending orbit (from
north to south) over the sunlit side of the Earth at 705
kilometers (438 miles) altitude, it makes a complete orbit
every 99 minutes, completes about 14 full orbits each day,
and crosses every point on Earth once every 16 days. Swath is
185 kilometers [9].
Landsat 7 carries the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus
(ETM+), with 30-meter visible, NIR, and SWIR (shortwave
infrared) bands, a 60-meter thermal band, and a 15-meter

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panchromatic band. More details on sensor characteristics are


reported in Table 1.
TABLE I.

ETM+ BANDS DESIGNATION

Spectral
Band

Wavelengths
(micrometers)

Geometric
resolution (meters)

Band 1

0.45-0.52

30

Band 2

0.52-0.61

30

Band 3

0.63-0.69

30

Band 4

0.76-0.90

30

Band 5

1.55-1.75

30

L is the calculated radiance associated to the ground area


enclosed in the pixel and referred to the wavelength range of
the specific band;
DN is the digital number of the pixel of the Landsat 7
ETM+ band image;
gain and bias are sensor-specific calibration parameters
determined before the launch.
In Table 2 gain and bias values for bands used in this
application and given in Chander et al [14] are reported.
TABLE II.

GAIN AND BIAS FOR 3 AND 4 BANDS

Band 6

10.40-12.50

60

Spectral
Band

Band 7

2.08-2.35

30

Band 3

0.621654

-5.62

Band 8

0.52-0.90

15

Band 4

0.639764

-5.74

For this application two Landsat ETM+ images of Sicily


acquired in Red and NIR bands on May 1, 2001 were
considered. Those data by USGS [10] were downloaded from
Earth Science Data Interface (ESDI) at the Global Land Cover
Facility web site [11]. Territorial framework of the considered
area is reported in Figure 1.

Gain

Bias

The resulting radiance was the quantity measured by the


Landsat sensor without consideration of the position of the sun
and the differing amounts of energy output by the sun in each
band. NDVI calculation requires to consider the effective
reflectance, the fraction of the suns energy that is reflected by
the surface at specific wavelength values. In this application
Top-Of-Atmosphere (TOA) reflectance was considered: it
represents the solar radiation incident on the satellite sensor in
standard unit less terms, independent of the position of the sun
with respect to the earth. TOA is not the reflectance that would
be recorded by a hand-held spectrophotometer on the ground
because of the atmospheric effects. In fact the electromagnetic
radiation incident on the satellite sensor is significantly
distorted by interaction with gases and aerosols in the earths
atmosphere, both on the way down to the ground, and once
more on the way back up to the instrument. Nevertheless using
TOA values rather than DNs better results are achieved.
In this application at-sensor radiance values were converted
to TOA reflectance values using the following formula:

Figure 1. Territorial framework of the considered area

B. TOA radiance calculation


Landsat data from the USGS were already radiometrically
and geographically corrected, but fitted in 8 bit files (ranges
from 0 to 255). In other terms, each image was matrix of DNs
(Digital Numbers) while to calculate vegetation indices,
reflectance values (physical measurements of the part of the
solar energy reflected by earth features) were required.
At first DNs were transformed to radiance using the
formula [12], [13],:

where:
R is the reflectance (unitless ratio) referred to the
wavelength range of the specific band;
L is the radiance calculated by formula 1;
d is the earth-sun distance (in astronomical units);
Esun, is the mean exoatmospheric solar irradiance at the
specific band;
sin SE is the solar elevation angle.

where:

Values of Esun, were achieved by Chander et al article and


reported in Table III for the two bands of interest.

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TABLE III.

SPECIFIC RADIANCE OF SUN IN BAND 3 AND BAND 4


Spectral
Band

Sun Radiance Esun,


[Watts/(sq. metersm)]

Band 3

1533

Band 4

1039

Values of d and sin SE were established in consideration


of their dependence by the day of the year and the time of day
when the scene was captured. Specifically SE was already
indicated in the metadata file with the images, while d was
derived from tabulates of the Nautical Almanac (United States
Naval Observatory) [15] in consideration of the acquisition day
(DOY= day of the year=121; d=1.00756 astronomical units).
Atmospheric correction was needed to obtain reflectance at
ground level, but this step was not introduced in this
application, limiting the approach to the determination and use
of TOA reflectance.
III.

Figure 3. Particular of NDVI classification for original images (water in blu,


soil in yellow, vegetation in green)

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

For NDVI application both original images as well as


derived ones with TOA calculation were employed. Thresholds
to distinguish three different classes (water, soil, vegetation)
were obtained empirically comparing everytime results with
true color RGB composition. Their values are reported in Table
IV.
TABLE IV.

NDVI TRESHOLDS

Used Images

Threshold watersoil

Threshold soilvegetation

Original images

-0.36

0.05

Transformed
images

-0.24

0.26

Particulars of NDVI classification (North coast) are


reported in Figure 2 for original images and Figure 3 for
transformed ones. The same area in RGB true color
composition is reported in Figure 4.

Figure 4. The same area of previous two figures in RGB true color
composition

Better results for derived images are evident: without


transformation of original data, classification of pixels
produced noise in both water as well as soil classes and
threshold definition was unable to remove it. In fact, if this
limit was increased, some pixels certainly belonging to class
water were erroneously attributed to the class soil, vice versa in
the case in which the limit was decreased.
IV.

Figure 2. Particular of NDVI classification for original images (water in blu,


soil in yellow, vegetation in green)

CONCLUSIONS

Landsat 7 ETM+ images (Band 3 and Band 4) can be used


for NDVI calculation, but, if they are formatted in 8-bit
numbers (ranges from 0 to 255), transformation is required.
Original pixel values must be converted firstly in radiance, then
in reflectance values. Formula for both operations are already
present in literature as well as values of quantities that are
required. Using TOA rather than ground level reflectance,
acceptable results can be achieved. The application described
in this paper and based on the process of two Sicily Landsat
ETM+ (Red and NIR) images confirmed the validity of this
approach. With transformation of the DNs in TOA reflectance
values, increase of quality level for the classification is

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considerable in the case of the distinction between water and


soil.

[8]
[9]

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