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.

    Introduction, the EM spectrum I (MD)
    EM spectrum II, blackbody, Planck function (MD)
    Radiative transfer (MD)
    Spatial, spectral resolution and sampling (MD, JGD, PL)
    Pre-processing chain, ground segment, radiometric resolution, scanners (MD)
    LIDAR remote sensing: Introduction & principles (MD)
    RADAR remote sensing I: Intrtoduction & principles (MD)
    RADAR remote sensing II: Interferometric SAR (MD)

    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)

    3 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 four questions from a choice of seven in a three hour unseen exam. 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):

  • 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
  • Seminars T1 2016

  • Tues 15/11/16 13-14:00, PB305 (top floor from the north entrance of Pearson): Dr. Dirk Gorissen, from Oxford spin-out robotics company Oxbotica, will talk about some of their work on autonomous vehicles, & also about his work with UAVs for orangutan conservation
  • Tues 22/11/16 17-18:00, PBG07: Justin Moat, from Kew Gardens. Justin will show some of Kew's work in 3D lidar scanning of rare and iconic trees for preservation and management, as well as other UAV work, and remote sensing and GIS applications for tree conservation
  • Tues 6/12/2016 17-18:00, PBG07: Charlotte Bishop, one of our MSc graduates, now working for CGG (via Nigel Press Associates) to talk about recent mapping and geoscience activities (and opportunities).
  • Tues 29/11-18:00 Dr. Matt Waldram, Planet Labs. Discussing PL's 'flock' of low cost high res nanosats, which are changing the way we collect and use satellite data.

    Other talks TBD which I'll advertise here and via email etc. We also encourage you to attend the Industrial seminar series arranged in CEGE, on a Thursday evening. We also have physical Geography seminars on a Thursday lunchtime in G07 - some of these may be of interest, and again I'll try and let you know - all welcome to those.

    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
    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
    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: Aug 2015

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