An Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for concurrent measurements of solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence and hyperspectral reflectance toward improving crop monitoring

Christine Y. Chang, Ruiqing Zhou, Oz Kira, Samhita Marri, Joseph Skovira, Lianhong Gu, Ying Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Unmanned aerial system (UAS)-based remote sensing can provide high spatial- and temporal-resolution crop monitoring for precision management. Existing crop monitoring UAS primarily use conventional techniques such as multi-spectral broadband vegetation indices (VIs) to track canopy structure/biomass. Recently developed lightweight hyperspectral sensors can track crop physiology and performance via complementary signals such as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF) and photochemical reflectance index (PRI) that can be derived from hyperspectral reflectance. However, few existing UAS can acquire high-quality SIF and hyperspectral reflectance. We designed a novel UAS that simultaneously captures far-red SIF and hyperspectral reflectance, using a single bifurcated fiber and motorized arm to measure downwelling and upwelling irradiance. The UAS was tested over (1) a heterogeneous corn field with spatially varying crop yield potential and (2) a set of soybean and corn plots under differing nutrient treatments. Our UAS can maintain stability under low-to-moderate winds (2–3 m/s) with <0.4 m geolocation accuracy, <0.1 m altitude drift, and <1.5° error of the fiber optic from nadir position during scanning. Weekly seasonal campaigns reveal that SIF outperforms conventional VIs such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) for distinguishing plots with different crop yield potential, especially after canopy closure when NDVI tends to saturate. The UAS can capture the diurnal dynamics of SIF and PRI for both corn and soybean. At the seasonal scale, SIF acquired from the UAS correlates well with that from a fixed SIF tower system (R2 = 0.81), which measured the same target albeit with different footprints, demonstrating the capability of UAS in characterizing the seasonal progression of crop activity. In conclusion, our newly developed UAS provides high-quality SIF and hyperspectral reflectance, facilitating mechanistic understanding of the physiological control on photosynthesis dynamics. Our findings also imply that this UAS could enable extension of fixed tower-based systems to monitor multiple targets from diurnal to seasonal scales and improve monitoring of heterogeneous fields.

Original languageEnglish GB
Article number108145
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - 15 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Crop monitoring
  • Hyperspectral reflectance
  • Remote sensing
  • Solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF)
  • Unmanned aerial systems (UAS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'An Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for concurrent measurements of solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence and hyperspectral reflectance toward improving crop monitoring'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this