Skip to main content

Normalized-Difference Snow Index (NDSI)

  • Reference work entry
  • First Online:
Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers

Part of the book series: Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series ((EESS))


Normalized-Difference Snow Index (NDSI) – normalized difference of two bands (one in the visible and one in the near-infrared or short-wave infrared parts of the spectrum) is used to map snow. Snow is highly reflective in the visible part of the EM spectrum and highly absorptive in the near-infrared or short-wave infrared part of the spectrum, whereas the reflectance of most clouds remains high in those same parts of the spectrum, allowing good separation of most clouds and snow.


The NDSI has a long history. The use of ratioing visible (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) or short-wave infrared (SWIR) channels to separate snow and clouds was documented in the literature beginning in the mid-1970s by Valovcin (1976, 1978) and also by Kyle et al. (1978). A considerable amount of work on this subject was conducted at, and published by, the Air Force Geophysics Laboratory (AFGL) (e.g., see Bunting and d’Entremont, 1982). The objective of the AFGL work was to discriminate...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions


  • Barnes, J. C., and Smallwood, M. D., 1975. Synopsis of current satellite snow mapping techniques with emphasis on the application of near-infrared data. In Rango, A. (ed.), Operational Applications of Satellite Snowcover Observations. NASA Special Publication SP-391, pp. 199–213.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bunting, J. T., and d’Entremont, R. P., 1982. Improved cloud detection utilizing Defense Meteorological Satellite Program near infrared measurements, Air Force Geophysics Laboratory, Environmental Research Papers, No. 765, AFGL-TR-82-0027, 27 January 1982, 91 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crane, R. G., and Anderson, M. R., 1984. Satellite discrimination of snow/cloud surfaces. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 5(1), 213–223.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dozier, J., 1987. Remote sensing of snow characteristics in the southern Sierra Nevada, “Large Scale Effects of Seasonal Snow Cover,” Proceedings of the Vancouver Symposium August 1987, IAHS, 166, pp. 305–314.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dozier, J., 1989. Spectral signature of alpine snow cover from the Landsat Thematic Mapper. Remote Sensing of Environment, 28, 9–22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dozier, J., and Marks, D., 1987. Snow mapping and classification from Landsat Thematic Mapper data. Annals of Glaciology, 9, 1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall, D. K., and Riggs, G. A., 2007. Accuracy assessment of the MODIS snow-cover products. Hydrological Processes, 21, 1534–1547.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall, D. K., Riggs, G. A., and Salomonson, V. V., 1995. Development of methods for mapping global snow cover using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. Remote Sensing Environment, 54, 127–140.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall, D. K., Riggs, G. A., Salomonson, V. V., DiGirolamo, N. E., and Bayr, K. J., 2002. MODIS snow-cover products. Remote Sensing of Environment, 83, 181–194.

    Google Scholar 

  • Klein, A. G., Hall, D. K., and Riggs, G. A., 1998. Improving snow-cover mapping in forests through the use of a canopy reflectance model. Hydrological Processes, 12, 1723–1744.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kyle, H. L., Curran, R. J., Barnes, W. L., and Escoe, D., 1978. A cloud physics radiometer, Third Conference on Atmospheric Radiation, American Meteorological Society, 28–30 June 1978, Davis, Calif., p. 107.

    Google Scholar 

  • Riggs, G. A., Hall, D. K., Barker, J. L., and Salomonson, V. V., 1993. The Developing Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Snow Cover Algorithm, Proceedings of the 50th Annual Eastern Snow Conference. 8–10 June. Quebec, Canada: Quebec City, pp. 51–58.

    Google Scholar 

  • Riggs, G. A., Hall, D. K., and Salomonson, V. V., 2006. MODIS Snow Products User Guide.

  • Romanov, P., and Gutman, G., 2000. Automated monitoring of snow cover over North America with multispectral satellite data. Journal of Applied Meteorology, 39, 1866–1880.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenthal, W., and Dozier, J., 1996. Automated mapping of montane snow cover at subpixel resolution from the Landsat Thematic Mapper. Water Resources Research, 32(1), 115–130.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valovcin, F. R., 1976. Snow/cloud discrimination, AFGL-TR-76-0174, ADA 032385.

    Google Scholar 

  • Valovcin, F. R., 1978. Spectral radiance of snow and clouds in the near infrared spectral region, AFGL-TR-78-0289, ADA 063761.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dorothy K. Hall .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

About this entry

Cite this entry

Hall, D.K., Riggs, G.A. (2011). Normalized-Difference Snow Index (NDSI). In: Singh, V.P., Singh, P., Haritashya, U.K. (eds) Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. Springer, Dordrecht.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics