Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging Spectrometer

contributed by Jeffrey Gillan

Other Names:


Agency/Company Operating the Sensor



AVIRIS is an airborne hyperspectral sensor that has been operational since 1989. The sensor has 224 contiguous spectral bands each .01 µm wide ranging from .400 to 2.5 µm. The primary objective of the AVIRIS project is to identify, measure, and monitor constituents of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere with research focusing on understanding processes related to the global environment and climate change. Hyperspectral data has the ability to detect subtle variations in radiation absorption and reflectance at a much finer scale than broadband sensors such as Landsat and SPOT. Such ability can be useful for distinguishing plant species as well as soil and mineral types.

There are several drawbacks to using AVIRIS data including cost, acquisition, and data size. Requesting a new acquisition requires extensive planning and must be scheduled with NASA months in advance. Collecting AVIRIS data is an expensive endeavor with each flight costing a minimum of $70,000. Once received, hyperspectral data can be difficult to work because of its enormous volume and will require sophisticated software to process it.

Alternatively, requesting archived data is free of charge for NASA-funded or affiliated scientists.

Similar Sensors

AVIRIS is similar to other commercial hyperspectral sensors.

Sensor Specifications

The sensor has 224 contiguous spectral bands each .01 µm wide ranging from .400 to 2.5 µm. AVIRIS is a whiskbroom scanning system and collects data in a 12 bit quantization (0 to 4095).

The sensor flies on a few aircrafts including the NASA/ARC ER-2 at a high altitude of 20 km and the Twin Otter International’s turboprop at a lower altitude of 4 km.

Spatial resolution of the imagery will vary depending on the altitude of the aircraft. High altitude flights have a resolution of 20m x 20m, while low altitude flights have a higher resolution of 4m x4m.

Image footprint or swath width

Swath width of 11 km at high altitude (20 km)
Swath width of 1.9 km at low altitude (4 km)

Return interval

On demand

Cost, Acquisition, Licensing

As mentioned in the description, acquiring new AVIRIS images can be costly and time consuming. Requesting and AVIRIS flight has to be done months in advance and can cost upwards of $70,000. All groups interested in acquiring new AVIRIS data must submit an experiment proposal to NASA headquarters and a flight request to Dryden Flight Research Center.

Obtaining archived images is an easier option though your specific area of interest may not be available. You can quickly view archived images from the years 1992 to 2009 here: Archived data is free of charge though the requestor must be NASA-funded.

AVIRIS order form: Delivery of AVIRIS data is available through FTP download or on DVD.

Alternatively, graduate students conducting research can obtain one AVIRIS flight line per year at no cost.

Examples of Rangeland Uses

  • Gamon et al. (1993) found a strong correlation between NDVI values derived from AVIRIS data to ground measurements such as canopy chemistry, structure, productivity, and CO2 flux. This correlation suggests that AVIRIS data can be used on a large scale to estimate spatial and temporal trends in grassland vegetation.
  • Fitzgerald and Ustin (1992) investigated the use of hyperspectral AVIRIS data to detect dry biomass residue in a rangeland environment.
  • Hunt et al. (1996) assessed the use of AVIRIS data for various rangeland applications including comparisons of other imaging systems.

Software/Hardware Requirements

To use AVIRIS imagery, a remote sensing package that is capable of processing and analyzing hyperspectral imagery is necessary (e.g., ENVI, ERDAS).

Additional Information


  • Fitzgerald, M., S. L. Ustin (1992), Measuring dry plant residues in grasslands: A case study using AVIRIS, Summaries of the Third Annual JPL Airborne Geoscience Workshop, Vol. 1.
  • Gamon, J. A., C. B. Field, D. A. Roberts, S. L. Ustin, R. Valentini (1993), Functional patterns in an annual grassland during and AVIRIS overflight, Remote Sensing of the Environment, Vol. 44, no. 2-3, pp. 239-253.
  • Hunt, E. R., M. M. Barlow, C. L. Mahelona, W. A. Laycock, S. Heising, R. P. Smith, and J. Foreman (1996), Hyperspectral remote sensing and applications, Proceedings of the Conference, Denver, CO, pp. 291-297.
  • Jenson, John R. (2007), Remote Sensing of the Environment: An Earth resource perspective, second edition, Prentice Hall series in geographic information science, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

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