Tor Vergata University, Rome, Italy

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Understanding Earth Observation:
Electromagnetic Foundations of Remote Sensing
Domenico Solimini

Starting November 2011


The quite large distance between the mathematical description of electromagnetic waves and the user applications of Earth observation is one reason of the generally partial and fragmented comprehension of the information content of remote sensing data.

Overlooking a thorough and global understanding of how the remote information is produced and transfered may result in slow and hampered development of processing tools, in inefficient retrieval schemes, in non-optimal choices and decisions, in occasional pitfalls.

The course attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the interaction between electromagnetic waves and the terrestrial environment, aiming at highlighting the information contained in the remote data for different frequency bands. The end-to-end path from basic electromagnetics up to image and data features is scanned. Numerical problems are proposed and case studies are discussed to deepen the comprehension process.


The electromagnetic field: Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic parameters of materials, boundary conditions, energy budget, time-harmonic representation, vector polarization; quasi-monochromatic fields, polarization matrix, temporal and spatial coherence.

Electromagnetic parameters: permittivity in the frequency domain for tenuous or polar materials, conductivity and its relation with permittivity; microwave and optical/IR dielectric properties of atmosphere, water, acqueous dielectrics, vegetation, soil, ionosphere.

Coherent wave propagation: electromagnetic field in the geometrical optics approximation, wave propagation in weakly inhomogeneous media, electromagnetic rays, electromagnetic path length, rays in plane and radial media, rays in the troposphere, weakly lossy inhomogeneous media, attenuation.

Plane waves: electromagnetic field in homogeneous media, phase and attenuation vectors, atmospheric transmissivity, intrinsic impedance, Jones and Stokes field representation, Poincaré sphere..

Wave reflection and refraction: normal and oblique incidence, effect of polarization, Brewster angle, reflection from a slab, dielectric vs. lossy materials, total reflection.

Electromagnetic radiation: Green's function for free space, field of point source, finite sources, far field, electromagnetic reciprocity, equivalence.

Antennas and apertures: field and power radiation patterns, gain, effective area, aperture efficiency, receiving co- and cross-polarizations; linear antennas; rectangular, circular, elliptical apertures; main and secondary lobes, beamwidth.

Electromagnetic scattering: scattering function, scattering and Mueller matrices; scattering, absorption and extinction transverse sections, albedo; the radar equation; extended targets and spatial resolution; properties of scattering, coherent vs. incoherent scattering; large and small scatterers; bodies with planar and with rough interfaces; scattering from bodies with random permittivity.

3-D positioning in Earth observation: spatial resolution and positioning in passive and active systems; real and synthetic antennas; effects of slope, lay-over, double bounce in radar images;
retrieval of height information; SAR interferometry, de-ranging, unwrapping; accuracy of interferometric measurements; effect of the atmosphere, electromagnetic path length, single- vs. repeat-pass interferometry; labile vs. stable scattering; interferometric coherence; differential interferometry.

Electromagnetic spectrum and information: the electromagnetic spectrum in Earth observation; effect of the atmosphere; frequency-dependent interaction mechanisms and sensed environmental parameters; passive and active techniques from visible to microwaves.

Interaction of electromagnetic waves with the earth surface: reflection, scattering and emission from the earth; surface and volume scattering; effects of bio-geo-physical parameters; reflection, scattering and emission features of environmental materials in the visible, near and thermal infrared and microwaves; information on terrain, vegetation, sea, snow and ice.

Radiative transfer: wave propagation in an absorbing and scattering medium; radiative transfer equation, formal solution; radiative transfer at microwaves; ground-based and satellite-based radiometric observations from visible to microwaves.

Appendix: recalling vectors and coordinate systems, recalling operators, gradient, divergence, curl, recalling curvilinear coordinates, operators in orthogonal curvilinear coordinates, recalling nabla and its use, Laplacian.

Schedule and venue


UEO consists of two parts, basic and advanced.

Classes of the basic course will be on Tuesdays at 16:00, classes of the advanced course on Thursdays at 16:00. GeoInformation seminars or other events might occasionally cause changes.

An introductory plenary meeting will be on Thursday 17 November 2011 at 16:00, to discuss the contents and to refine the organization.


Meeting room of the Department of Computer, Systems and Production Engineering - DISP - located on the ground floor of the "Ingegneria della Informazione" A-building, Via del Politecnico, 1.


The course is intended for the GeoInformation PhD candidates.

It will be open also to interested personnel of the institutions that support or have supported the GeoInformation PhD Program.

Given the limited capacity of the room, admission will be on a first arrive first served basis.

GeoInformation PhD candidates are automatically enrolled. Other persons planning to attend the courses are kindly requested to send an e-mail to Dr. Daniela Picin (


Earth Observation
(advanced course)

Earth Observation Data correction
- Geometric correction, registration, resampling
- Radiometric calibration, atmospheric correction
Remote Sensing Data Statistics
Data Transformations
- Principal Components
- Vegetation Indices
- Texture
Thematic information extraction
- Supervised classification
- Unsupervised classification
- Classification accuracy
Neural networks: methods and applications to Earth Observation data
Interferometry: theory and applications to topography, subsidence and ice movements monitoring.
Coherency maps.
Remote Sensing
(advanced course)

Interaction mechanisms between electromagnetic waves and the environment (reflection, emission, scattering, propagation).
Dependence of measured electromagnetic quantities on bio-geophysical and meteorological parameters in the different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Inversion models and techniques.
Extraction of profiles and maps of bio- and geophysical parameters from radar, lidar, and radiometric data.
The use of neural network for classification and parameter estimation.
SAR interferometry:
- along track, across track, repeat pass
- coregistration
- resampling and interpolation
- flattening
- phase unwrapping
- geocoding
- differential interferometry
- DEM generation

Image Information Mining
Mihai Datcu
German Aerospace Center DLR
Oberpfaffenhofen, D-82234 Wessling, Germany
Paris Institute of Technology GET/Telecom Paris
46 rue Barrault, F-75 013 Paris, France

Starting October 2008

The goal of this course is to promote a new profession that does not exist today and cannot grow out of the current competencies.
The new profession aims at elaboration of theories, methods and systems to face in a new manner the new class of problems in image information extraction, understanding and use.
The new profession is based on a novel class of advanced computer engineering and information technologies, associated with overall man - machine system intelligence.

1 Error and quality analysis
2 Information representations
3 Data clustering and grouping
4 Machine learning
4 Spatial syntax and semantics
5 Data Mining: the concepts
6 Knowledge representation and discovery
7 Spatio-temporal reasoning
8 Applications to Earth Observation

Image analysis
Parameter estimation
Information measures
Random fields 1
Random fields 2
Image mining 1
Image mining 2
Image time series

Remote Sensing Instrumentation
William J. Emery
Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, U.S.A.

May 2008
1. Overview
(a) Background, Examples of Past, Current, and Future Instruments
(b) Radiative Transfer Basics (specifics of optical and microwave radiation)
(c) Sensor Systems Engineering: Requirements Analysis and Functional Design
(d) System Engineering: Design Optimization and Trade Studies
(e) System Engineering: Development, Integration and Test

2. Optical Remote Sensing Instrumentation
(a) Optics Review (Snells law, reflection, refraction, lenses, focal length)
(b) Optical Design (mirrors, telescopes, optimizing focal lengths, aperture, field of view, etc., constraints)
(c) Detectors: Overview (photoelectric, semiconductor, CCD)
(d) Detectors: Technological Challenges (real world examples of some common issues)
(e) Spectral Response (dichroics, filters, hyperspectral approaches)
(f) Instrument Calibration 1
(g) Instrument Calibration 2
(h) Optical Design Example: AVHRR
(i) Optical Design Example: MODIS

3. Passive Microwave Remote Sensing Instrumentation
(a) Introduction to Passive Microwave Remote Sensing
(b) Antennas: Overview (differences and similarities with optical telescopes)
(c) Antennas: Design (optimization of antenna size, etc.)
(d) Antennas: Technological Challenges (more real world examples)
(e) Synthetic Apertures 1
(f) Synthetic Apertures 2 (example of how to overcome the size constraint problem)
(g) Instrument Pointing Requirement/control
(h) Design Example: SSM/I , SMOS

4. Active Microwave (Radar) Remote Sensing Instrumentation
(a) Differences Between Passive and Active Microwave Remote Sensing
(b) Radar Design Optimization
(c) Synthetic Aperture Radar
(d) Radar Polarimetry
Applications of Neural Networks to Remote Sensing

The course will be given by Dr. Fabio Del Frate starting 16 June 2011

Lecture # 1: Introduction to Neural Networks
Lecture # 2: Design of optimal networks
Lecture # 3: Applications to image classification
Lecture # 4: Applications to remote sensing of atmosphere
Lecture # 5: Applications to land and vegetation parameters retrieval
Lecture # 6: Towards new neural models and architectures
Laboratory assignment: NEUMAPPER software
Modeling microwave scattering and emission from vegetation: an introduction

The course will be given by Dr. Leila Guerriero

Review of microwave interaction models for vegetation: from Water Cloud to coherent models
The permittivity of vegetation
The discrete approach: the canonic representation of the scattering vegetation element (disc, needle, cylinder); the forward scattering theorem
Multiple scatterng and combination of contributions by means of the matrix doubling method: calculation of the backscattering coefficient and emissivity of vegetated surfaces
Simulations and comparisons with experimental data for wheat, corn, forests ….
Polarimetry and classification. The bistatic scattering coefficient


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