Optical remotely sensed images in mountainous areas are subject to radiometric distortions induced by topographic effects, which need to be corrected before quantitative applications. Based on Li model and Sandmeier model, this paper proposed an improved physics-based model for the topographic correction of Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) images. The model employed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) thresholds to approximately divide land targets into eleven groups, due to NDVI’s lower sensitivity to topography and its significant role in indicating land cover type. Within each group of terrestrial targets, corresponding MODIS BRDF (Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function) products were used to account for land surface’s BRDF effect, and topographic effects are corrected without Lambertian assumption. The methodology was tested with two TM scenes of severely rugged mountain areas acquired under different sun elevation angles. Results demonstrated that reflectance of sun-averted slopes was evidently enhanced, and the overall quality of images was improved with topographic effect being effectively suppressed. Correlation coefficients between Near Infra-Red band reflectance and illumination condition reduced almost to zero, and coefficients of variance also showed some reduction. By comparison with the other two physics-based models (Sandmeier model and Li model), the proposed model showed favorable results on two tested Landsat scenes. With the almost half-century accumulation of Landsat data and the successive launch and operation of Landsat 8, the improved model in this paper can be potentially helpful for the topographic correction of Landsat and Landsat-like data.
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