The remote sensing community often requires data simulation, either via spectral/spatial downsampling or through virtual, physics-based models, to assess systems and algorithms. The Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Image Generation (DIRSIG) model is one such first-principles, physics-based model for simulating imagery for a range of modalities. Complex simulation of vegetation environments subsequently has become possible, as scene rendering technology and software advanced. This in turn has created questions related to the validity of such complex models, with potential multiple scattering, bidirectional distribution function (BRDF), etc. phenomena that could impact results in the case of complex vegetation scenes. We selected three sites, located in the Pacific Southwest domain (Fresno, CA) of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). These sites represent oak savanna, hardwood forests, and conifer-manzanita-mixed forests. We constructed corresponding virtual scenes, using airborne LiDAR and imaging spectroscopy data from NEON, ground-based LiDAR data, and field-collected spectra to characterize the scenes. Imaging spectroscopy data for these virtual sites then were generated using the DIRSIG simulation environment. This simulated imagery was compared to real AVIRIS imagery (15m spatial resolution; 12 pixels/scene) and NEON Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) data (1m spatial resolution; 180 pixels/scene). These tests were performed using a distribution-comparison approach for select spectral statistics, e.g., established the spectra’s shape, for each simulated versus real distribution pair. The initial comparison results of the spectral distributions indicated that the shapes of spectra between the virtual and real sites were closely matched.
The planned NASA Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) mission, equipped with an imaging spectrometer that has the capability of monitoring ecosystems globally, will provide an unprecedented opportunity to address scientiﬁc challenges related to ecosystem function and change. However, uncertainty remains around the impact of subpixel vegetation structure, in combination with the point spread function, on pixel-level imaging spectroscopy data. We estimated structural parameters, e.g., leaf area index (LAI), canopy cover, and tree location, from HyspIRI spectral data, with the goal of assessing how subpixel variation in these parameters impact pixel-level imaging spectroscopy data. The ﬁne-scale variability of real vegetation structure makes this a challenging endeavor. Therefore, we utilized a simulation-based approach to counter the time-consuming and often destructive sampling needs of vegetation structural analysis and to simultaneously generate synthetic HyspIRI data pre-launch. Three virtual scenes were constructed, corresponding to the actual vegetation structure in the National Ecological Observatory Network’s (NEON) Paciﬁc Southwest Domain (Fresno, CA). These included an oak savanna, a dense coniferous forest, and a conifer-manzanita-mixed forest. Simulated spectroscopy data for these scenes were then generated using the Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Image Generation (DIRSIG) model. Simulations ﬁrst were used to verify the physical model, virtual scene geometrical information, and simulation parameters. This was followed by simulations of HyspIRI data, where within-pixel structural variability was introduced, e.g., by iteratively changing per-pixel canopy cover and tree placement, tree clustering, leaf area index (LAI), etc., between simulation runs for the virtual scenes. Finally, narrow-band vegetation indices (VIs) were extracted from the data in an attempt to describe the variability of the subpixel structural parameters; this was done in order to assess VI robustness to changes in structural “levels”, as well as placement of trees/canopies within the instrument’s instantaneous ﬁeld-of-view (IFOV). Our ultimate goal is not only to better understand how such subpixel variability inﬂuence imaging spectroscopy outputs, but also to better estimate vegetation structural parameters using spectra. We constructed regression models for LAI (R<sup>2</sup> = 0.92) and canopy cover (R<sup>2</sup> = 0.97) with narrow-band VIs via this simulation approach. Our models ultimately are intended to improve the HyspIRI mission’s ability to monitor global vegetation structure.