An emissivity modulation method for spatial enhancement of thermal satellite images in urban heat island analysis

Janet Elizabeth Nichol

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


This study examines and validates a technique for spatial enhancement of thermal satellite images for urban heat island analysis, using a nighttime ASTER satellite image. The technique, termed Emissivity Modulation, enhances the spatial resolution while simultaneously correcting the image derived temperatures for emissivity differences of earth surface materials. A classified image derived from a higher resolution visible wavelength sensor is combined with a lower resolution thermal image in the emissivity correction equation in a procedure derived from the Stephan Bolzmann law. This has the effect of simultaneously correcting the image-derived "Brightness Temperature" (Tb) to the true Kinetic Temperature (Ts), while enhancing the spatial resolution of the thermal data. Although the method has been used for studies of the urban heat island, it has not been validated by comparison with "in situ " derived surface or air temperatures, and researchers may be discouraged from its use due to the fact that it creates sharp boundaries in the image. The emissivity modulated image with 10 m pixel size was found to be highly correlated with 18 in situ surface and air temperature measurements and a low Mean Absolute Difference of 1 K was observed between image and in situ surface temperatures. Lower accuracies were obtained for the Ts and Tb images at 90 m resolution. The study demonstrates that the emissivity modulation method can increase accuracy in the computation of kinetic temperature, improve the relationship between image values and air temperature, and enable the observation of microscale temperature patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-556
Number of pages10
JournalPhotogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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