Vegetation Indices Background

Analyzing vegetation using remote sensing 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:

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.

ENVI provides the following categories of vegetation indices:

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 ENVI 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.

Related Topics

Spectral Indices, Vegetation Indices, Vegetation Analysis Tools, Agricultural Stress Tool, Fire Fuel Tool, Forest Health Tool, Vegetation and Its Reflectance Properties, EO-1 Hyperion Vegetation Indices Tutorial