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Landsat Calibration & Validation

While Landsat satellites are well-designed and calibrated prior to launch, continuous recalibration is required to offset degradation that may be caused by mechanical or electrical effects, or exposure to UV radiation. Calibration requires a comparison between the measuring instrument and an “absolute” reference standard of known accuracy. 

Continuity with the past is key to meeting future land imaging science needs. The Landsat program, operated by the USGS, is the longest continuous record of satellite-based Earth imaging. Landsat data quality is viewed by the remote-sensing user community as a "gold standard" (National Geospatial Advisory Committee, 2020).

To ensure the continued excellent quality of Landsat data, the USGS EROS Center has identified (1) maintaining a well-calibrated multidecade remote-sensing archive for science and (2) developing and understanding land remote-sensing requirements and land imaging solutions as key strategic pillars. Understanding the land imaging requirements of current and future users, along with an ability to assess the capabilities of current and future systems for meeting those requirements, is key to meeting future land imaging science needs. 

In the past, Cal/Val activities at the EROS Center addressing the previously mentioned pillars were spread across multiple groups. The USGS EROS Center strategically brought the multiple groups together and formed a single team in a unified project called the EROS Cal/Val Center of Excellence (ECCOE) to enable the USGS to more efficiently address national and global land remote-sensing needs.

The ECCOE Landsat Cal/Val Team continually monitors the radiometric and geometric performance of active Landsat missions and makes calibration adjustments as needed to ensure Landsat data are of the highest quality. 

Landsat Radiometric Characterization and Calibration

Reflectance, radiance, and atmospheric conditions all affect the digital number (DN) values of Landsat data. Radiometric calibration employs algorithms and processes that improve Landsat data. This is done by converting the DN values of the data to spectral radiance (at the sensor), and then to reflectance (also at the sensor). This is followed by the removal of atmospheric effects, which are due to absorption and scattering, to perform atmospheric correction (reflectance at the surface). The Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 Data Users Handbooks also provide more information on radiometric characterization and calibration. 

Calibration Parameter Files

Example of a Landsat 8 Calibration Parameter File
Example of a Landsat 8 Calibration Parameter File.

Calibration Parameter Files (CPFs) provide radiometric and geometric coefficients needed for processing of raw, uncorrected Landsat image data. Each timeframe-specific CPF contains calibration coefficients that have been adjusted to correct for the time varying performance of the sensor.

The Calibration Parameter File page allows the searching and downloading of CPFs specific to each Landsat sensor, and displays definition documents and notices about changes that affect the files.

Response Linearization Look Up Tables 

Response Linearization Look Up Tables (RLUT) are optional additional files that accompany Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 Calibration Parameter Files (CPF) and contain a mapping look up table to linearize the output of the OLI detectors.

Bias Parameter Files 

Bias Parameter Files (BPF) are available for Landsat 8 and Landsat 9. BPFs supply radiometric correction parameters during Level-1 processing of Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 data products.


Test Sites Catalog July 2021

ECCOE Test Sites Catalog

The ECCOE Test Sites Catalog contains prime candidate worldwide test sites for the calibration and post-launch characterization of space-based optical imaging sensors.

The Catalog also includes pseudo invariant calibration sites (PICS), which are considered benchmarks for on-orbit calibration, since they are essentially invariant over time; are spatially very uniform and have stable spectral response over time; the atmospheric effects on upwelling radiance is minimal due to high surface reflectance; and are in regions where rainfall is limited, preventing vegetative growth and very sparse human populations. 

Ref: Absolute Calibration of Optical Satellite Sensors Using Libya 4 Pseudo Invariant Calibration Site, Remote Sensing 2014, 6(2), 1327-1346; doi:10.3390/rs6021327.


Landsat Mission Underfly Opportunities

Throughout the Landsat Program’s long mission history, calibration and characterization of data are of paramount importance. One of the best methods for cross-calibration between instruments is imaging near-coincidentally in tandem using an underfly with an earlier mission sensor. The images below display the result of the Landsat 9 underfly with Landsat 8 over Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on November 11, 2021. The left image shows the Landsat 8 OLI image and the right image is from Landsat 9 OLI. Both images are shown as a true color image using the red, green, and blue bands (Bands 4|3|2).

The underfly activities of Landsat 5 through Landsat 9 are described on the Landsat Mission Underfly Opportunities webpage. 

Landsat 9 Underfly with Landsat 8 over Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Landsat Geometric Validation 

Accurate geometry ensures that Landsat data pixels are aligned, and that the data can be used easily in time series analysis. The exceptional geometric qualities of Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 OLI/TIRS data are used to improve the reference database used to precisely and accurately geolocate all Landsat Level-1 data products. Landsat Science products inherit the geometry of Landsat Level-1 data.  Validating the geometric accuracy of Landsat data incorporates the known processing levels, the root-mean-square error (RMSE) information, and the use of Ground Control Points. 

The Landsat Geometry webpage provides additional details about the Landsat Ground Control Points, Landsat Levels of Processing, and performance tests that were done on the Landsat 8 instruments. 

Ground Control Points (GCPs)

GCPs are points on the surface of the Earth of known location, used to geo-reference Landsat Level-1 imagery. GCPs are updated as needed to continually improve Landsat data. GCPs can be downloaded and used as reference data. Visit the Landsat Ground Control Point webpage to learn more.

Levels of Processing 

To assure Landsat Level-1 data are suitable for time-series analysis, products need to be co-registered. The root-mean-square error (RMSE) reported in the metadata (MTL.txt) file can be used to filter the precision and terrain corrected Level-1 data products to meet application specific requirements. Landsat processing levels and their accuracies are listed on the Landsat Levels of Processing webpage. 


Additional Files and Data Useful in Landsat Calibration/Validation


Solar Illumination and Sensor Viewing Angle Coefficient Files

Solar Illumination and Sensor Viewing Angle Coefficient Files

Definitive Ephemeris

Definitive Ephemeris

Landsat TM "no-Payload Correction" Data (PCD)

Landsat TM "no-Payload Correction" Data (PCD)