Precision Agriculture

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 786–800 | Cite as

Field phenotyping of water stress at tree scale by UAV-sensed imagery: new insights for thermal acquisition and calibration

  • David Gómez-CandónEmail author
  • Nicolas Virlet
  • Sylvain Labbé
  • Audrey Jolivot
  • Jean-Luc Regnard


Numerous agronomical applications of remote sensing have been proposed in recent years, including water stress assessment at field by thermal imagery. The miniaturization of thermal cameras allows carrying them onboard the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but these systems have no temperature control and, consequently, drifts during data acquisition have to be carefully corrected. This manuscript presents a comprehensive methodology for radiometric correction of UAV remotely-sensed thermal images to obtain (combined with visible and near-infrared data) multispectral ortho-mosaics, as a previous step for further image-based assessment of tree response to water stress. On summer 2013, UAV flights were performed over an apple tree orchard located in Southern France, and 4 dates and 5 h of the day were tested. The 6400 m2 field plot comprised 520 apple trees, half well-irrigated and half submitted to progressive summer water stress. Temperatures of four different on-ground stable reference targets were continuously measured by thermo-radiometers for radiometric calibration purposes. By using self-developed software, frames were automatically extracted from the thermal video files, and then radiometrically calibrated using the thermal targets data. Once ortho-mosaics were obtained, root mean squared error (RMSE) was calculated. The accuracy obtained allowed multi-temporal mosaic comparison. Results showed a good relationship between calibrated images and on-ground data. Significantly higher canopy temperatures were found in water-stressed trees compared to well-irrigated ones. As high resolution field ortho-mosaics were obtained, comparison between trees opens the possibility of using multispectral data as phenotypic variables for the characterization of individual plant response to drought.


Unmanned aerial vehicle Thermal infrared Ortho-mosaics Radiometric calibration Canopy temperature Water stress 



The authors would like to thank Cyril Portal and Sébastien Martinez for helping in field imaging. This project was supported by Agropolis Foundation through the «Investissements d’Avenir» program (ANR-10-LABX-0001-01) under the reference ID 1202-070.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Gómez-Candón
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nicolas Virlet
    • 2
  • Sylvain Labbé
    • 3
  • Audrey Jolivot
    • 4
  • Jean-Luc Regnard
    • 2
  1. 1.INRA, UMR AGAP 1334Montpellier Cedex 5France
  2. 2.Montpellier SupAgro UMR AGAP 1334CIRADMontpellier Cedex 5France
  3. 3.IRSTEA UMR TETISMaison de la TélédétectionMontpellierFrance
  4. 4.CIRAD UMR TETISMaison de la TélédétectionMontpellierFrance

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