Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 303–331 | Cite as

Earth Observation Imaging Spectroscopy for Terrestrial Systems: An Overview of Its History, Techniques, and Applications of Its Missions

  • Michael RastEmail author
  • Thomas H. Painter


Imaging spectroscopy in the visible-to-shortwave infrared wavelength range (VSWIR), or nowadays more commonly known as ‘hyperspectral imaging’, for terrestrial Earth Observation remote sensing, dates back to the early 1980s when its development started with mainly airborne demonstrations. From its initial use as a research tool, imaging spectroscopy encompassing the VSWIR spectral range has gradually evolved towards operational and commercial applications. Today, it is one of the fastest growing research areas in remote sensing owing to its diagnostic power by means of discrete spectral bands that are contiguously sampled over the spectral range with which a target is observed. The main principles of imaging spectroscopy rely on the exploitation of light dispersion technologies to split the incoming light through a telescope before being projected onto detector arrays. The light dispersion can be achieved by using prism or diffractive grating optical systems, perpetually aiming for improved performances in terms of efficiency, straylight rejection, and polarization sensitivity. The sensor technique has been first used in airborne imaging spectroscopy since the early 1980s and later in spaceborne hyperspectral missions from the end of the 1990s onwards. Currently, several hyperspectral spaceborne systems are under development and in preparation to be launched within the next few years. Through hyperspectral remote sensing, physical, chemical, and biological components of the observed matter can be separated and resolved thus providing a spectral ‘fingerprint’. The analyses of the spectral absorptions often give rise to quantitative retrievals of components of the observed target. The derived information is vital for the generation of a wide variety of new quantitative products and services in the domain of agriculture, food security, raw materials, soils, biodiversity, environmental degradation and hazards, inland and coastal waters, snow hydrology and forestry. Many of these are relevant to various international policies and conventions. Originally developed as a powerful detection and analysis tool for applications predominantly related to planetary exploration and non-renewable resources, imaging spectroscopy now covers many disciplines in atmospheric, terrestrial vegetation, cryosphere, and marine research and application fields. There is an increasing number of visible/near-infrared (VNIR) imaging spectrometers emerging also as small payloads on small satellites and cubesats, built and launched by small-medium enterprises. These are targeted to address commercial applications mainly in agriculture, resources and environmental management, and hazard observations.


Earth observation Satellite remote sensing Imaging spectroscopy Terrestrial ecosystems 



The paper is an outcome of a Workshop on Requirements, capabilities, and directions in Spaceborne Imaging Spectroscopy held at the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern, Switzerland, in November 2016. Part of this work was performed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with NASA. The authors acknowledge the support of J. Adams (ESA-ESRIN), U. del Bello (ESA-ESTEC), C. Giardino (IREA-CNR), R.O. Green (JPL), L. Guanter (GFZ), S. Förster (GFZ), and C. Mielke (GFZ).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Space Agency—ESRINFrascatiItaly
  2. 2.NASA-Jet Propulsion LaboratoryPasadenaUSA

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