Capturing the Diurnal Cycle of Land Surface Temperature Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Yoann Malbeteau, Stephen Parkes, Bruno Jose Luis Aragon Solorio, Jorge Rosas, Matthew McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Characterizing the land surface temperature (LST) and its diurnal cycle is important in understanding a range of surface properties, including soil moisture status, evaporative response, vegetation stress and ground heat flux. While remote-sensing platforms present a number of options to retrieve this variable, there are inevitable compromises between the resolvable spatial and temporal resolution. For instance, the spatial resolution of geostationary satellites, which can provide sub-hourly LST, is often too coarse (3 km) for many applications. On the other hand, higher-resolution polar orbiting satellites are generally infrequent in time, with return intervals on the order of weeks, limiting their capacity to capture surface dynamics. With recent developments in the application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), there is now the opportunity to collect LST measurements on demand and at ultra-high spatial resolution. Here, we detail the collection and analysis of a UAV-based LST dataset, with the purpose of examining the diurnal surface temperature response: something that has not been possible from traditional satellite platforms at these scales. Two separate campaigns were conducted over a bare desert surface in combination with either Rhodes grass or a recently harvested maize field. In both cases, thermal imagery was collected between 0800 and 1700 local solar time. The UAV-based diurnal cycle was consistent with ground-based measurements, with a mean correlation coefficient and root mean square error (RMSE) of 0.99 and 0.68 °C, respectively. LST retrieved over the grass surface presented the best results, with an RMSE of 0.45 °C compared to 0.67 °C for the single desert site and 1.28 °C for the recently harvested maize surface. Even considering the orders of magnitude difference in scale, an exploratory analysis comparing retrievals of the UAV-based diurnal cycle with METEOSAT geostationary data yielded pleasing results (R = 0.98; RMSE = 1.23 °C). Overall, our analysis revealed a diurnal range over the desert and maize surfaces of ~20 °C and ~17 °C respectively, while the grass showed a reduced amplitude of ~12 °C. Considerable heterogeneity was observed over the grass surface at the peak of the diurnal cycle, which was likely indicative of the varying crop water status. To our knowledge, this study presents the first spatially varying analysis of the diurnal LST captured at ultra-high resolution, from any remote platform. Our findings highlight the considerable potential to utilize UAV-based retrievals to enhance investigations across multi-disciplinary studies in agriculture, hydrology and land-atmosphere investigations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1407
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 5 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: Funding: The research reported in this publication was supported by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Acknowledgments: We greatly appreciate the logistical, equipment and scientific support offered to our team by Jack King, Alan King and employees of the Tawdeehiya Farm in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia, without whom this research would not have been possible.


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