Progress in field spectroscopy

E.J. Milton, M.E. Schaepman, K. Anderson, M. Kneubühler, N. Fox

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This paper reviews developments in the science of field spectroscopy, focusing on the last twenty years in particular. During this period field spectroscopy has become established as an important technique for characterising the reflectance of natural surfaces in situ, for supporting the vicarious calibration of airborne and satellite sensors, and for providing a means of scaling-up measurements from small areas (e.g. leaves, rocks) to composite scenes (e.g. vegetation canopies), and ultimately to pixels. This paper describes the physical basis of the subject and evaluates the different methods and instruments which have been employed across a range of studies. The development and use of field goniometers is described, and related to methods for estimating the bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) from directional reflectance measurements in the field. The paper also considers the practical aspects of field spectroscopy, and identifies a number of factors affecting the useability of field spectroradiometers, including the weight and cost of the instruments, limitations of some commonly used methodologies and practical issues such as the legibility of displays and limited battery life. The prospects for the future of field spectroscopy are considered in relation to the increasingly important contribution that field spectral data will make to EO-based global measurement and monitoring systems, specifically through their assimilation into numerical models. However, for this to be achieved it is essential that the data are of high quality, with stated levels of accuracy and uncertainty, and that common protocols are developed and maintained to ensure the long-term value of field spectroscopic data. The importance of employing a precise terminology for describing the geometric configuration of measurements is highlighted in relation to issues of repeatability and reproducibility. Through such refinements in methodology, field spectroscopy will establish its credentials as a reliable method of environmental measurement, underpinning quantitative Earth observation and its applications in the environmental and Earth sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S92-S109
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue numberSuppl.1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • remote-sensing applications
  • ground-based radiometry
  • bidirectional reflectance
  • directional reflectance
  • vicarious calibration
  • surface reflectance
  • test-site
  • absolute calibration
  • sensor calibration
  • temporal stability

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    Milton, E. J., Schaepman, M. E., Anderson, K., Kneubühler, M., & Fox, N. (2009). Progress in field spectroscopy. Remote Sensing of Environment, 113(Suppl.1), S92-S109.