Electromagnetic Radiation Principles: Reflectance

Kelly Debure, Eckerd College


The purpose of this hands on activity is to experiment with reflectance properties of various surfaces and to gain a better understanding of the effects of the position of the energy source and the detector (azimuth and zenith angles) on the recorded (perceived) brightness.


Type and level of course
Undergraduate level, remote sensing course for environmental studies majors.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment
Read chapters 1 and 2 in the text (Remote Sensing of the Environment, J. Jensen).

Software required for this assignment/activity:

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
1 hour


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
Students learn how specular reflectance, diffuse reflectance, azimuth angle, zenith angle, BRDF, influence the radiance recorded by a remote sensing system.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Students learn how to classify surfaces as specular or diffuse in order to gain some level of expectation of how recorded brightness values might vary for a surface when time of day or position of remote sensor changes.

Description of the activity/assignment

Prior to this activity, students read Chapters 1 and 2 in Jensen's Remote Sensing for the Environment. In class student pairs receive sample surface materials (sandpaper, sheet metal, felt), a flashlight, tape, measuring tape, and a small tripod. Their task is to illuminate each of the surfaces and observe how the reflectance changes when viewed from different angles.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students must classify the materials as perfectly specular, specular, or diffuse.
More information about assessment tools and techniques.

URLs and References

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Poster (PowerPoint 1.3MB Sep27 10) form 2010 Workshop.

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