AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer)

Written by Jeffrey Gillan

Other Names:


Agency/Company Operating the Sensor

The Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES) are a cooperative effort between NASA and NOAA.


The Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) is a multi-spectral sensor flying on NOAA’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES). The high resolution refers to its fast temporal ability. At any given time AVHRR is active on two satellites orbiting the Earth in opposite directions, allowing for total global coverage twice daily. A sensor on many satellites over the years, AVHRR data has been continually collected since 1981 and is still currently operational. AVHRR applications encompass meterological, climatological, and land use. Its broad instantaneous field of view (i.e., resolution) of 1.1 km lends itself to observing surface conditions on a regional or continental scale and has been used to monitor food crops, wildfires, desert encroachment, and vegetation changes.

Its temporal ability is a major advantage for tracking fast changing surface conditions on a broad scale. Another advantage of AVHRR data is the availability of pre-processed products. Weekly and bi-weekly NDVI products are archived and available at no charge. Its broad spatial resolution, however, can also be a disadvantage if your area of interest is relatively small.

Satellites Utilized

Satellite Name Service Start Service End
TIROS N Oct 19, 1978 Jan 30, 1980
NOAA 6 June 27, 1979 Nov 16, 1986
NOAA 7 Aug 24, 1981 Feb 1, 1985
NOAA 8 May 3, 1983 Oct 31, 1985
NOAA 9 Feb 25, 1985 Nov 7, 1988
NOAA 10 Nov 17, 1986 Sept 16, 1991
NOAA 11 Nov 8, 1988 June 16, 2004
NOAA 12 Sept 17, 1991 Aug 10, 2007
NOAA 14 April 10, 1995 May 23, 2007
NOAA 15 (am secondary) Dec 15, 1998 Present
NOAA 16 (pm secondary) March 20, 2001 Present
NOAA 17 (am backup) Oct 15, 2002 Present
NOAA 18 (pm secondary) Aug 30, 2005 Present
NOAA 19 (pm primary) June 2, 2009 Present
MetOp A (am primary) May 20, 2007 Present

Similar Sensors

modis, orbview-2

Sample Images

AVHRR sensors can acquire data in two different modes. Local Area Coverage (LAC) data has a spatial resolution of 1.1 km. Global Area Coverage (GAC) data has a spatial resolution of 4 km. The data usually has 10-bit radiometric precision. The exact band specifications have varied over time for the different ACHRR sensors that are placed aboard the different satellites.

Spectral Bands/Wavelengths

Band NOAA 6,8,10 Wavelength µm NOAA 7,9,11-14 Wavelength µm NOAA 15-19, MetOp-A Wavelength µm Band Description
1 0.580-0.680 0.580-0.680 0.580-0.680 Vegetation mapping, NDVI, daytime cloud, snow, ice
2 0.725-1.100 0.725-1.110 0.725-1.110 Vegetation mapping, NDVI, land/water interface, snow, ice
3 3.550-3.930 3.550-3.930 3A: 1.580-1.640, 3B: 3.550-3.930 Snow/ice discrimination, day/night cloud and surface temperature mapping
4 10.500-11.500 10.300 – 11.300 10.300-11.300 Day/night cloud and surface temperature mapping
5 None 11.500-12.500 11.500-12.500 Cloud and surface temperature, day/night cloud mapping

Image footprint or swath width

The AVHRR swath width is 2,900km A Level 1b (radiance) scene is 2,400×6,400km

Return Interval

POES satellites have polar orbits at a relatively low orbit of 830 to 870 km above the Earth. They circle the earth 14 times per day allowing for complete global coverage twice per day. The AVHRR sensor is active on two satellites in opposite orbits; one ascending, one descending. This double coverage ensures that every place on Earth is observed every six hours.

Cost, Acquisition, Licensing

Much of AVHRR data is free of cost.

From the USGS Earth Explorer http://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/, weekly and biweekly NDVI composites of the entire U.S. are available from January 1989 to present. Also available are specific orbit segments from 1992-1999. These are Level 1b products (radiance values).

NOAA Comprehensive Large Array-Data Stewardship (CLASS) http://www.class.ngdc.noaa.gov/saa/products/welcome;jsessionid=0B932BE066C8A7EC6B3948A290405A77 has Level 1B products from 1981 to present. The images can be downloaded free through an FTP site. The files are usually between 45-60 MB.

Image format

Imagery downloaded from the USGS Earth Explorer comes in .IMG format. This format is recognized in many visualization packages such as Erdas Imagine, ENVI and ArcGIS

The CLASS system receives and archives the AVHRR data in its native binary format and requires a bit of software writing to read the data. Fortunately, there are a number of commercial vendors who support this format and provide programs that would read, display, geo-reference, calibrate, and much more. An example of one such program is Erdas Imagine from Leica Geosystems. Please see the HELP FAQ under satellite data viewing software to find a list of other vendors. http://www.class.ngdc.noaa.gov/notification/faq.htm#11

Examples of Rangeland Uses

  • Oesterheld et al (1998) used an NDVI index derived from AVHRR images to predict rangeland stocking rates
  • Minor et al (1999) used many AVHRR images over a six year period to detect change in rangeland conditions in the American West.
  • Senay and Elliott (2002) used AVHRR NDVI images to identify different types of rangeland cover for studying regional evapotranspiration.
  • The University of Arizona’s RangeView project (http://rangeview.arizona.edu/) offers a web-based tool for viewing time-series of AVHRR- and MODIS- derived products for specific rangeland areas. These images can be used to look at changes in rangelands from 1989 to 2007.

Software/Hardware Requirements

There are no special hardware or software requirements for using AVHRR data.

Additional Information


  • 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.
  • Minor, T. B., J. Lancaster, T. G. Wade, J. D. Wickham, W. Whitford, and K. B. Jones (1999), Evaluating change conditions using multitemporal AVHRR data and geographic information system analysis, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, Vol. 59, No. 2, pp. 211-223.
  • Oesterheld, M., C. M. DiBella, and H. Kerdiles (1998), Relation between NOAA-AVHRR satellite data and stocking rate of rangelands, Ecological Applications, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 207-212.
  • Senay, G. B., and R. L. Elliott (2002), Capability of AVHRR data in discriminating rangeland cover mixtures, International Journal of Remote Sensing, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 299-312.

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