Analyzing vegetation using drone data requires knowledge of the structure and function of vegetation and its reflectance properties. This knowledge enables you to link vegetative structures and their condition to their reflectance behavior in an ecological system of interest. See the following topics for more information on vegetation properties:

  • Plant Foliage

  • Canopies

  • Non-Photosynthetic Vegetation

Vegetation reflectance properties are used to derive vegetation indices (VIs). VIs are constructed from reflectance measurements in two or more wavelengths across the optical spectrum to analyze specific characteristics of vegetation, such as total leaf area and water content.

Atlasx provides the following categories of vegetation indices:

  • Broadband Greenness

  • Narrowband Greenness

  • Canopy Nitrogen

  • Canopy Water Content

  • Dry or Senescent Carbon

  • Leaf Pigments

  • Light Use Efficiency

The solar-reflected optical spectrum spans a wavelength range of 400 nm to 3000 nm. Of this range, the 400 nm to 2500 nm region is routinely measured using a variety of optical sensors ranging from multispectral (for example, Landsat TM) to hyperspectral (for example, AVIRIS). Vegetation interacts with solar radiation differently from other natural materials, such as soils and water bodies. The absorption and reflection of solar radiation is the result of many interactions with different plant materials, which varies considerably by wavelength. Water, pigments, nutrients, and carbon are each expressed in the reflected optical spectrum from 400 nm to 2500 nm, with often overlapping, but spectrally distinct, reflectance behaviors. These known signatures allow scientists to combine reflectance measurements at different wavelengths to enhance specific vegetation characteristics by defining VIs.

Each category of indices typically provides multiple techniques to estimate the absence or presence of a single vegetation property. For different properties and field conditions, some indices within a category provide results with higher validity than others. By comparing the results of different VIs in a category, and correlating these to field conditions measured on site, you can assess which indices in a particular category do the best job of modelling the variability in your scene. By using the VI in any category that best models the measured field conditions for a few measurements, you can significantly increase the quality of the results from any further processing.​ The VIs provided in Atlasx are not designed to quantify the exact concentration or abundance of any given vegetation component. Instead, they are intended for use in geographically mapping relative amounts of vegetation components, which can then be interpreted in terms of ecosystem conditions.

Reference: Asner, G. Biophysical and Biochemical Sources of Variability in Canopy Reflectance." Remote Sensing of Environment 64 (1998): 234-253.​​

Broadband Greenness

The broadband greenness VIs are among the simplest measures of the general quantity and vigor of green vegetation. They are combinations of reflectance measurements that are sensitive to the combined effects of foliage chlorophyll concentration, canopy leaf area, foliage clumping, and canopy architecture. These VIs are designed to provide a measure of the overall amount and quality of photosynthetic material in vegetation, which is essential for understanding the state of vegetation for any purpose. These VIs are an integrative measurement of these factors and are well correlated with the fractional absorption of photosynthetically active radiation (fAPAR) in plant canopies and vegetated pixels. They do not provide quantitative information on any one biological or environmental factor contributing to the fAPAR, but broad correlations have been found between the broadband greenness VIs and canopy LAI.

Broadband greenness VIs compare reflectance measurements from the reflectance peak of vegetation in the near-infrared range to another measurement taken in the red range, where chlorophyll absorbs photons to store into energy through photosynthesis. Use of near-infrared measurements, with much greater penetration depth through the canopy than red, allows sounding of the total amount of green vegetation in the column until the signal saturates at very high levels. Because these features are spectrally quite broad, many of the broadband greenness indices can work effectively, even with image data collected from broadband multispectral sensors, such as AVHRR, Landsat TM, and QuickBird. Applications include vegetation phenology (growth) studies, land-use and climatological impact assessments, and vegetation productivity modelling. Increases in leaf chlorophyll concentration or leaf area, decreases in foliage clumping, and changes in canopy architecture each can contribute to decreases in the NIR wavelengths and increases in the red wavelengths, thereby causing an increase in the broadband greenness values.

Narrowband Greenness

Narrowband greenness VIs are combinations of reflectance measurements sensitive to the combined effects of foliage chlorophyll concentration, canopy leaf area, foliage clumping, and canopy architecture. Similar to the broadband greenness VIs, narrowband greenness VIs are designed to provide a measure of the overall amount and quality of photosynthetic material in vegetation, which is essential for understanding the state of vegetation. Narrowband greenness VIs are intended for use with imaging spectrometers. One area where narrowband greenness VIs are useful is precision agriculture. This is an information- and technology-based agricultural management system to identify, analyze, and manage site-soil spatial and temporal variability.

Most of these VIs use reflectance measurements in the red and near-infrared regions to sample the red edge portion of the reflectance curve. The red edge is a name used to describe the steeply sloped region of the vegetation reflectance curve between 690 nm and 740 nm that is caused by the transition from chlorophyll absorption and near-infrared leaf scattering. Use of near-infrared measurements, with much greater penetration depth through the canopy than red measurements, allows estimation of the total amount of green material in the column. Making narrowband measurements in the red edge allows these indices to be more sensitive to smaller changes in vegetation health than the broadband greenness VIs, particularly in conditions of dense vegetation where the broadband measures can saturate.

Canopy Nitrogen

Canopy Nitrogen VIs provide a measure of nitrogen concentration of remotely sensed foliage. Nitrogen is an important component of chlorophyll and is generally present in high concentration in vegetation that is growing quickly. This VI uses reflectance measurements in the shortwave infrared range to measure relative amounts of nitrogen contained in vegetation canopies.

Canopy Water Content

The canopy water content VIs provide a measure of the amount of water contained in the foliage canopy. Water content is an important quantity of vegetation because higher water content indicates healthier vegetation that is likely to grow faster and be more fire-resistant. Canopy water content VIs use reflectance measurements in the near-infrared and shortwave infrared regions to take advantage of known absorption features of water and the penetration depth of light in the near-infrared region to make integrated measurements of total column water content.

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