National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Remote Sensing of Environment (2012), doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.06.026


Sensors on Landsat satellites have been collecting images of the Earth's surface for nearly 40 years. These images have been invaluable for characterizing and detecting changes in the land cover and land use of the world. Although initially conceived as primarily picture generating sensors, even the early sensors were radiometrically calibrated and spectrally characterized prior to launch and incorporated some capabilities to monitor their radiometric calibration once on orbit. Recently, as the focus of studies has shifted to monitoring Earth surface parameters over significant periods of time, serious attention has been focused toward bringing the data from all these sensors onto a common radiometric scale over this 40-year period. This effort started with the most recent systems and then was extended back in time. Landsat-7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM)+, the best-characterized sensor of the series prior to launch and once on orbit, and the most stable system to date, was chosen to serve as the reference. The Landsat-7 project was the first of the series to build an image assessment system into its ground system, allowing systematic characterization of its sensors and data. Second, the Landsat-5 Thematic Mapper (TM) (still operating at the time of the Landsat-7 launch and continues to operate) calibration history was reconstructed based on its internal calibrator, vicarious calibrations, pseudo-invariant sites and a tie to Landsat-7 ETM+ at the time of the commissioning of Landsat-7. This process was performed in two iterations: the earlier one relied primarily on the TM internal calibrator. When this was found to have some deficiencies, a revised calibration was based more on pseudo-invariant sites, though the internal calibrator was still used to establish the short-term variations in response due to contaminant build up on the cold focal plane. As time progressed, a capability to monitor the Landsat-5 TM was added to the image assessment system. The Landsat-4 TM, which operated from 1982 to 1992, was the third system to which the radiometric scale was extended. The limited and broken use of the Landsat-4 TM made this analysis more difficult. Eight-day separated image pairs from Landsat-5 combined with analysis of pseudo invariant sites established this history. The fourth and most challenging effort was making the Landsat 1–5 Multi-Spectral Scanner (MSS) sensors' data internally radiometrically consistent. This effort was particularly complicated by the age of the MSS data, varying formats and processing levels in the archive, limited datasets, and limited documentation available. Ultimately, pseudo-invariant sites were identified in North America and used for this effort. Note that most of the Landsat MSS archived data had already been calibrated using the MSS internal calibrators, so this processing was embedded in the result. The final effort was developing an absolute scale for Landsat MSS similar to what was already established for the “TM” sensors. Thiswas accomplished by using simultaneous data fromLandsat-5MSS and Landsat-5 TM, accounting for spectral differences between the sensors using EO-1 Hyperion data. The recalibrated history of the Landsat data and implications to users are discussed. The key result from this work is a consistently calibrated Landsat data archive that spans nearly 40 years with total uncertainties on the order of 10% or less for most sensors and bands.