Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Intercomparison of same-day remote sensing data for measuring winter cover crop biophysical traits

April 6, 2024

Winter cover crops are planted during the fall to reduce nitrogen losses and soil erosion and improve soil health. Accurate estimations of winter cover crop performance and biophysical traits including biomass and fractional vegetative groundcover support accurate assessment of environmental benefits. We examined the comparability of measurements between ground-based and spaceborne sensors as well as between processing levels (e.g., surface vs. top-of-atmosphere reflectance) in estimating cover crop biophysical traits. This research examined the relationships between SPOT 5, Landsat 7, and WorldView-2 same-day paired satellite imagery and handheld multispectral proximal sensors on two days during the 2012–2013 winter cover crop season. We compared two processing levels from three satellites with spatially aggregated proximal data for red and green spectral bands as well as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). We then compared NDVI estimated fractional green cover to in-situ photographs, and we derived cover crop biomass estimates from NDVI using existing calibration equations. We used slope and intercept contrasts to test whether estimates of biomass and fractional green cover differed statistically between sensors and processing levels. Compared to top-of-atmosphere imagery, surface reflectance imagery were more closely correlated with proximal sensors, with intercepts closer to zero, regression slopes nearer to the 1:1 line, and less variance between measured values. Additionally, surface reflectance NDVI derived from satellites showed strong agreement with passive handheld multispectral proximal sensor-sensor estimated fractional green cover and biomass (adj. R 2 = 0.96 and 0.95; RMSE = 4.76% and 259 kg ha−1, respectively). Although active handheld multispectral proximal sensor-sensor derived fractional green cover and biomass estimates showed high accuracies (R 2 = 0.96 and 0.96, respectively), they also demonstrated large intercept offsets (−25.5 and 4.51, respectively). Our results suggest that many passive multispectral remote sensing platforms may be used interchangeably to assess cover crop biophysical traits whereas SPOT 5 required an adjustment in NDVI intercept. Active sensors may require separate calibrations or intercept correction prior to combination with passive sensor data. Although surface reflectance products were highly correlated with proximal sensors, the standardized cloud mask failed to completely capture cloud shadows in Landsat 7, which dampened the signal of NIR and red bands in shadowed pixels.

Publication Year 2024
Title Intercomparison of same-day remote sensing data for measuring winter cover crop biophysical traits
DOI 10.3390/s24072339
Authors Alison Thieme, Kusuma Prabhakara, Jyoti Jennewein, Brian T Lamb, Gregory T. McCarty, W. Dean Hively
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Sensors
Index ID 70252824
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center