Thermal infrared remote sensing of vegetation: Current status and perspectives

E. Neinavaz*, Martin Schlerf, R. Darvishzadeh, Max Gerhards, Andrew K. Skidmore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
191 Downloads (Pure)


Vegetation plays a vital role in the ecological functioning of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. Remote sensing generally provides timely and accurate information to manage ecosystems sustainably and effectively. In this respect, thermal infrared (TIR, 3–14 µm) remote sensing data form a valuable data source for vegetation studies. The TIR data provides unique information compared to other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This article aims to gather and review the most relevant information obtained using TIR remote sensing data for terrestrial vegetation at leaf and canopy levels using laboratory/field-based, airborne and spaceborne platforms. We address this topic from various angles, particularly focusing on vegetation discrimination as well as the quantification of water stress by means of canopy temperature and spectral emissivity. In addition, attempts to associate TIR spectral features with vegetation biochemical compounds, as well as the retrieval of vegetation biochemical and biophysical parameters, are reviewed. Research needs and requirements for successful use of remote sensing in vegetation studies across the TIR region, as well as significant challenges, are also discussed. Our review reveals that, despite the increasing interest among remote sensing experts in using TIR data, there are still large gaps in our understanding and interpretation of TIR imagery. Some inconsistent findings and contradictory observations have come to light in different levels (i.e., leaf and canopy levels). In addition, our review shows that airborne and TIR hyperspectral-based studies are currently limited due to cost, particularly across large spatial extents. It can be concluded that TIR remote sensing of vegetation offers unique insights in understanding terrestrial vegetation (e.g., vegetation water stress and retrieval of biophysical parameters). TIR is complementary to other remote sensing data sources, with a high potential for fusing data from different parts of the spectrum. However, we highlight challenges obtaining consistent, meaningful and accurate results for land surface temperature and land surface emissivity retrieval.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102415
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Early online date2 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


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