Towards operational atmospheric correction of airborne hyperspectral imaging spectroscopy: Algorithm evaluation, key parameter analysis, and machine learning emulators

Qu Zhou, Sheng Wang, Nanfeng Liu, Philip A. Townsend, Chongya Jiang, Bin Peng, Wouter Verhoef, Kaiyu Guan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atmospheric correction of airborne hyperspectral imaging spectroscopy (AHIS) to obtain high-quality surface reflectance is the prerequisite for remote sensing applications. Over the last decades, different atmospheric correction methods have been developed based on radiative transfer models (RTMs), however, the relative performances of different algorithms are unclear. Automated operational atmospheric correction methods to process large-volume AHIS data in a high-accurate and high-throughput manner are still lacking. Therefore, this study proposed an operational atmospheric correction pipeline for deriving surface reflectance from AHIS data. To ensure the accuracy and efficiency of the pipeline, we focused on three specific aspects: (1) selecting a suitable RTM for the development of atmospheric lookup tables (LUTs) by comparing the commercial MODerate resolution atmospheric TRANsmission (MODTRAN) and open-sourced Library for Radiative TRANsfer (LibRadTRAN) models, where the widely-used software, Atmospheric/Topographic Correction for Airborne Imagery (ATCOR), was used as benchmarks; (2) identifying key atmospheric correction parameters and determining suitable sources for parameter retrievals including AHIS, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), and AErosol RObotic NETwork (AERONET); and (3) testing the performance of using machine learning emulators to speed up the RTM-based atmospheric correction. Results indicate that (1) atmospheric correction based on MODTRAN LUTs can produce surface reflectance accurately with mean absolute errors < 0.05 and cosine similarities > 0.98 compared to field measurements, which is comparable to the software ATCOR and slightly outperforms the LibRadTRAN LUTs; (2) sobol global sensitivity analysis demonstrates that in the atmospheric correction, visibility and water vapor are two key parameters that can be accurately derived from AHIS in contrast to MODIS or AERONET data; and (3) Random Forest emulators can produce accurate estimations of surface reflectance with mean absolute errors < 0.03 and cosine similarities > 0.98 for higher processing efficiency and determine a suitable set of wavelengths for retrieving atmospheric visibility and water vapor. The proposed atmospheric correction pipeline also improved the four-stream radiative transfer theory for airborne applications by considering adjacent effects from airborne surrounding pixels and can also be applied for atmospheric correction of hyperspectral data from spaceborne missions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)386-401
Number of pages16
JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Atmospheric correction
  • Hyperspectral
  • Machine learning
  • Radiative transfer modeling
  • Surface reflectance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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