Dr. Mat Disney
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Dr. Mathias Disney
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ESA Space In Images)

GEOGG141: Principles and Practice of Remote Sensing (PPRS)

Masters module: 15 credits

Staff: Dr. Mat Disney (MD) (convenor, UCL Geog), Dr. Jose Gomez-Dans (JGD), Prof. Philip Lewis (just Lewis, PL).

Course outline

GEOGG141: Detailed course outline, reading list and assessment details (MS Word file, PDF file).

Moodle: GEOGG141 but note these pages are the most up-to-date resource for this module.


  • To provide knowledge and understanding of the basic concepts, principles and applications of remote sensing, particularly the geometric and radiometric principles;
  • To provide examples of applications of principles to a variety of topics in remote sensing, particularly related to data collection, radiation, resolution, sampling, mission choices.
  • To introduce the principles of the radiative transfer problem in heterogeneous media, as an example application of fundamental principles.

    The module will provide an introduction to the basic concepts and principles of remote sensing. It will include 3 components: i) geometric principles of remote sensing: geodetic principles and datums, reference systems, mapping projections distortions and transformations; data acquisition methods; ii) radiometric principles remote sensing: electromagnetic radiation; basic laws of electromagnetic radiation; absorption, reflection and emission; atmospheric effects; radiation interactions with the surface, fundamentals of radiative transfer in heterogeneous media (vegetation); orbits; spatial, spectral, temporal, angular and radiometric resolution; data pre-processing; scanners; iii) time-resolved remote sensing including: RADAR principles; the RADAR equation; RADAR resolution; phase information and SAR interferometry; LIDAR remote sensing, the LIDAR equation and applications.

    Course schedule T1 2017

    GEOGG141: Detailed course outline, reading list and assessment details (MS Word file, PDF file).

    Lecture notes

  • Introduction to remote sensing & EM Radiation I (PDF file; Disney(2014) What can EO do for us? (PDF 80MB), book chapter in Canopy Photosynthesis: From Basics to Applications, eds. K. Hikosaka, U. Niinemets and N. P. R. Anten ; Grace et al. (2007); Woodhouse RADAR analogy, PDF file); ESA Challenges (2006, PDF)
  • EM Radiation II (PDF file; PPTX file; Schaepman-Strub et al. Reflectance quantities and definitions (2006); Barnsley et al. (1997) Multiangular information and BRDF; Asner et al. (2006) Amazonian logging I), Asner et al. (2010) Carbon stocks and emissions; Myneni et al. (2001); Myneni et al. (2007); Brando et al. (2010)
  • Radiative transfer theory: I (Background notes: PDF file; PDF of lecture 1; see Disney (2014); Verrelst et al. (2015) review of vegetation retrieval metods, and papers below for further examples)
  • Radiative transfer theory: II (Background notes: PDF file; PDF of lecture 2; see Disney (2014) and papers below for further examples)
  • Spatial, spectral resolution and sampling (PDF file; Cracknell paper ("What's in a pixel");
    Foody (2002) Land cover classification accuracy)
  • Angular, radiometric resolution/sampling (PDF file; Barnsley et al. (1997) Multiangular information and BRDF; Hansen et al. (2008); Morton et al. (2006))
  • Pre-processing, atmosphere, ground, scanning: (PDF file; Rahman and Dedieu (1994) Atmospheric correction;Vermote et al. (1997) The 6S Atmsopheric Correction model; Berk et al. (1998) MODTRAN4)
  • LIDAR: (PDF file; Lewis et al. (2010) comprehensive introduction to LIDAR remote sensing ; Baltsavias lidar equations); Disney et al. (2009) Modelling spaceborne lidar)
  • LIDAR II: (PDF file; PPTX file; Raumonen et al. (2013) Tree reconstruction from TLS; Calders et al. (2014) TLS estimates of above-ground biomass compared to destructive; Hackenburg et al. (2014) Another method to reconstruct volume from TLS.
  • RADAR I: (PDF file; PPTX file; CCRS Tutorial on RADAR;CCRS Tutorial PDF including RADAR Woodhouse RADAR analogy, PDF file; ESA SAR tutorial, PDF; Notes: SAR summary)
  • RADAR: II (PDF file, PPTX file; SRTM Hokaido avi movie; SRTM movie 2; SAR fundamentals; Wingham et al (2006))
  • Revision: (PDF file
  • ; PPTX file)

    70% unseen examination (January); 30% for poster prepared and presented at the end of T1.

    Exam - this is 2 hour unseen examination, which takes place at the start of Term 2. The examination will be a combination of essay-type and problem-solving questions. Candidates will answer three questions from a choice of 5 in 2hours. See course handout above for more details, but some past papers with model answers for 2008-2013 are given below (NOTE: the course code, content, and exam format have varied over time, most recently in 2014, where the mapping parts have been removed, and 2017 when the poster section was intriduced reducing the exam from 3 to 2 hours, and 4/7 to 3/5 questions):

  • Jan 2008
  • Jan 2009
  • Jan 2010
  • Jan 2011
  • Jan 2012
  • Jan 2013, note this was a DRAFT QA paper (not all Qs match final paper)
  • Jan 2014
  • Jan 2015
  • Poster
    You will need to prepare a scientific poster based on a remote sensing application of your choice. You will present the poster and its content during the session and answer questions on the content. Links are provided below for suggested templates for you to use for your poster presentation. These are formed of 4 x A3 sheets, which you should arrange in an A1 portrait format i.e. 2 rows of 2, all in portrait. The first 2 slides should obviously go at the top. I've given you these templates so you can print out on the UCL print@ucl service quickly and easily. You're quite welcome to use your own style eg a single A1 sheet, BUT: i) it should also be portrait; and ii) you will have to print in your own time and at your own expense.

    Regarding style and good practice, there are lots of resources online but here's some guidelines for starters. Remember, less text, more, clear figures. Oh yes, and less text.

  • http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/AnnMtg_BES-Poster-Design-Guidelines.pdf
  • https://www.liv.ac.uk/media/livacuk/computingservices/printing/making-an-impact-with-your-poster.pdf
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1876493/
  • http://www.northwestern.edu/climb/pdfs-powerpoints/resources-oral/RCW1-Posters.pdf

    Poster templates can be found here.

    Your posters will be marked according to the following criteria:

  • SCIENCE AND RESEARCH CONTENT (rationale, analysis, coherence)
  • POSTER DESIGN AND ORGANISATION (clarity, quality and effectiveness of figures and design)
  • ORAL PRESENTATION (response to questions, conduct, fluency)

    IMPORTANT: You MUST submit a pdf copy of your poster via moodle (DEADLINE: noon, Fri 15/12/17 i.e. the last day of term). You must ALSO submit a text only copy to TurnItIn (link). This should just be a word document with the text from your poster, including references, but no tables or figures. This is the file that will be assessed for plagiarism and thefore the text MUST match that in the poster pdf. Failure to do either of these will result in an incomplete submission, and so may be liable to a mark penalty.

    Aims and guidelines: recent remote sensing applications
    What is a scientific poster for? A poster is something we use to communicate our work rapidly and concisely, typically at scientific meeting, conferences and workshops. A poster can be a very effective way of communicating your science, making new research connections, find out how your work comes across to other people in the field, as well as how it comes across to people outside the field e.g. if you are presenting for a general audience, the public, schools, work etc. A key aim of course is to engage with the people who are viewing your poster - remember, if they come to read, you can always tell them about what you do in more detail. If they never stop to read in the first place then you can't. You can also use posters to try things out, preliminary results, present new data, before you may have had time to analyse in detail or write up for peer-reviewed publication. Also, you can keep a poster - if it looks good you can use it on the wall in an office or lab to show people what you do. But, a bad poster can also be a way to fill people with dread! The screeds of tiny text with poor or no figures, and tons of equations and wonky boxes.

    Journal articles

    PDFs of the papers below, and others (particularly for the radiative transfer lectures) are kept here. This is by no means a comprehensive list and is only intended to give a flavour of some of the literature in these areas.


    An excellent summary of key RS principles and examples produced by the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing. This is available online or as a 250 page 13MB pdf file, so is quite detailed and comprehensive.

    Radiative Transfer theory and modelling
    Kuusk, A. (2017) Review of RT modelling .
    Hilker, T. (2017) Surface BRDF modelling .
    Roujean, J.-L. (2017) Lumped parameter RT modelling.
    Pisek, J. (2017) Forest background modelling.
    Disney (2014) Review of EO applications, and introduction to radiative transfer for vegetation
    Disney et al. (2000) Monte Carlo methods
    Feret et al. (2008) PROSPECT-4 and 5
    Jacquemoud and Baret (1990) PROSPECT
    Lewis and Disney (2007) Scattering across scales
    Nilson and Kuusk (1989) Homogeneous RT model
    Price (1990) Soil basis functions
    Walthall et al. (1985) Empirical soil model

    Reviews & applications
    van Leeuwen and Disney (2017) Lidar for vegetation.
    Schneider et al. (2017) Mapping functional diversity from remotely sensed morphological and physiological forest traits.
    Sun (2017) Lidar sensors from space.
    Frankenberg and Berry (2017) Solar induced chlorophyll fluorescence.
    WWF Lidar guidelines for conservation.
    Gonzalez et al. (2017) Terrestrial lidar and harvesting large tropical trees.
    Asner et al (2014) Targeted carbon conservation at national scales with high-resolution monitoring.
    Mitchard et al. (2014) Markedly divergent estimates of Amazon forest carbon density from ground plots and satellites.
    Saatchi et al. (2014) Seeing the forest beyond the trees (reponse to Mitchard et al. 2014 above).
    Saatchi et al. (2011) Benchmark map of forest carbon stocks in tropical regions across three continents.
    ESA (2006) ESA's outline and strategy for EO for climate and societal wellbeing; an excellent introduction to EO and Earth System Science
    Barnsley et al. (1997) Multiangular information and BRDF
    Grace et al. (2007) "Can we measure photostynthesis from space?"
    Asner et al. (2005) Amazonian logging
    Brando et al. (2010) Climate and vegetation indices over the Amazon
    Asner et al. (2003) Global LAI synthesis
    Turner et al. (2005) Site-level MODIS NPP validation
    Asner et al. (2006) Amazonian logging II
    Asner et al. (2010) High resolution carbon stocks and sinks in the Amazon
    Disney et al. (2000) Canopy modelling methods
    Disney et al. (2006) Optical and RADAR models
    Disney et al. (2009) Modelling spaceborne lidar
    Rahman and Dediue (1994) Atmospheric correction
    Foody (2002) Land cover classification accuracy
    Quaife et al (2008) Land cover uncertainties and carbon fluxes
    Hansen et al. (2008) Humid tropical forest clearing
    Morton et al. (2006) Cropland expansion and deforestation
    Ollinger et al. (2009) Canopy nitrogen, carbon and albedo in temperate and boreal forests
    Myneni et al. (2001) Carbon sink in northern boreal forests
    Myneni et al. (2007) Amazon seasonality
    Stoy et al (2009) Upscaling ecological data via remote sensing
    Wingham et al (2009) Mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet
    Quegan et al (2009) Using Satellite Observatopns in Regional Scale Calculations of Carbon Exchange, in The Continental-Scale Greenhouse Gas Balance of Europe, Dolman, Han; Valentini, Riccardo; Freibauer, A. (Eds.), Ecological Studies vol 203, Springer, 390p, ISBN: 978-0-387-76568-6.


  •   Maintained by Mathias Disney Last Updated: Nov 2017

    Department of Geography - University College London - Gower Street - London - WC1E 6BT - Telephone: +44 (0)20 7679 5500
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