In recent years, the availability of lightweight microbolometer thermal cameras compatible with small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) has allowed their use in diverse scientific and management activities that require sub-meter pixel resolution. Nevertheless, as with sensors already used in temperature remote sensing (e.g., Landsat satellites), a radiance atmospheric correction is necessary to estimate land surface temperature. This is because atmospheric conditions at any sUAS flight elevation will have an adverse impact on the image accuracy, derived calculations, and study replicability using the microbolometer technology. This study presents a vicarious calibration methodology (sUAS-specific, time-specific, flight-specific, and sensor-specific) for sUAS temperature imagery traceable back to NIST-standards and current atmospheric correction methods. For this methodology, a three-year data collection campaign with a sUAS called “AggieAir”, developed at Utah State University, was performed for vineyards near Lodi, California, for flights conducted at different times (early morning, Landsat overpass, and mid-afternoon”) and seasonal conditions. From the results of this study, it was found that, despite the spectral response of microbolometer cameras (7.0 to 14.0 μm), it was possible to account for the effects of atmospheric and sUAS operational conditions, regardless of time and weather, to acquire accurate surface temperature data. In addition, it was found that the main atmospheric correction parameters (transmissivity and atmospheric radiance) significantly varied over the course of a day. These parameters fluctuated the most in early morning and partially stabilized in Landsat overpass and in mid-afternoon times. In terms of accuracy, estimated atmospheric correction parameters presented adequate statistics (confidence bounds under ±0.1 for transmissivity and ±1.2 W/m2
/sr/um for atmospheric radiance, with a range of RMSE below 1.0 W/m2
/sr/um) for all sUAS flights. Differences in estimated temperatures between original thermal image and the vicarious calibration procedure reported here were estimated from −5 °C to 10 °C for early morning, and from 0 to 20 °C for Landsat overpass and mid-afternoon times.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited