Using NDVI with atmospherically corrected data



NDVI is by far the most commonly used vegetation index. NDVI was developed in the early seventies (Rouse 1973, Tucker 1979), and widely used with remote sensing in the nineties until now. It is computed from the surface reflectance in the red and near infra-red channels on each side of the red-edge.




where \rho(NIR) and  \rho(RED) are reflectances in the NIR and RED. Although several users still use top-of atmosphere reflectances (TOA), surface reflectances should be used to reduce sensitivity to variations of aerosol atmospheric content.


A time profile of surface reflectance from Sentinel2 satellite for the blue, green, red and NIR spectral bands for a summer crop in South East France. The observation under constant viewing angles minimizes directional effects.One can also notice that reflectance variations related to vegetation status are greater in the near infra-red, while the noise is usually lower. As a result, a vegetation index should rely more on the NIR than on the red.

I think NDVI is mainly used for the following reasons (but feel free to comment and add your reasons) :

  • it has the large advantage of qualifying the vegetation status with only one dimension, instead of N dimensions if we consider the reflectances of each channel. Of course, by replacing N dimensions by only one, a lot of information is lost.
  • it  enables to reduce the temporal noise due to directional effects. But with the Landsat, Sentinel-2 or Venµs satellites, which observe under constant viewing angles, the directional effects have been considerably reduced.


I therefore tend to tell students that if NDVI is convenient, it is not the only way to monitor vegetation.

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