Remote sensing
Data acquisition
Image processing
  Colour composites
  Geometric corrections
  Radiometric corrections
  Contrast enhancement
  Visual interpretation
  Principal Component Analysis
  Combination of images
  Geospatial maps
  Combination of images and other data: DEM and DTM
Geometric corrections
Geometry to the rescue!

The images acquired by Earth observation systems cannot be transferred to maps as is, because they are geometrically distorted. These distortions are due to errors in the satellite’s positioning on its orbit, the fact that the Earth is turning on its axis as the image is being recorded, the effects of relief, etc. They are amplified even more by the fact that some satellites take oblique images.

Some distortions, such as the effects of the Earth’s rotation and camera angles, are predictable. They thus can be calculated and correction values applied systematically. Satellites also have sophisticated on-board systems to record very slight movements affecting the satellite. This information is used mainly to correct the satellite’s position (when this is necessary), but can also be used to correct the images geometrically.

The producers of satellite images generally propose applying the most elementary corrections based on the satellite’s known information. So, in the case of SPOT images it is possible to buy geometrically uncorrected images (‘level 1A’ images). However, a large number of users work with images in which the distortions have been corrected systematically (‘level 1B’ images). These corrections can be made without any special knowledge of the terrain. The accuracy of locations in these SPOT images is of the order of 500m.

To improve the precision of the corrections, reference points or Ground Controle Points, GCP (identified on a topographical map or in the field by GPS) must be available. The SPOT images that have been corrected in this way are accurate to approximately 50m and the data that they contain may be presented on a given map projection, meaning that the images are superimposable on a map.

In very mountainous areas considerable distortion is caused by the parallaxes generated by the terrain, especially when the images were recorded from an oblique view. On the graph on the left point A corresponds to the position of the mountain peak on a map whereas point B corresponds to the image of the mountain peak as seen by the satellite. The distance A-B is the parallax generated by the difference in elevation. To correct these distortions one must have a digital model of the terrain, that is, a computer file giving the physical elevation of each pixel in the image. As a rule, it is considered that satellite images can be corrected under ideal conditions in such a way that the distortions do not exceed the size of a pixel (10m for a SPOT P image), but, if truth be told, these ideal conditions are rarely seen.