Written by Jeffrey Gillan

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MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) is an imaging instrument flying on two satellites in NASA’s Earth Observing System; Terra and Aqua. Launched in 1999, Terra orbits from south to north with a morning equatorial crossing. Launched in 2002, Aqua orbits from north to south with an afternoon equatorial crossing. Flying on two satellites allows it to image the same area at different times of the day as well as cover the entire earth in one or two days. Its coarse spatial resolution is designed to observe land, ocean, and atmospheric conditions at a regional and global scale. The system has 36 separate spectral bands and a field of view ±55° off-nadir which gives it the ability to have very large swath widths of 2,330 km. The bands most applicable for rangeland studies would be bands 1-7 which gather data in the visible and infrared range at a spatial resolution of 250 meters and 500 meters.

A major advantage of using MODIS imagery is the availability of a suite of products ranging from raw images to highly processed products such as vegetation indices. The products are made on varying temporal schedules, some of which are made as often as daily and every 8 days. The products are all archived and available, usually at no charge. MODIS products are organized into different processing levels. Level 0 products are raw digital number images. Level 1 products include uncalibrated and calibrated radiance values. Level 2 and 3 products have more processing and are derived from lower level products.

Available Level 2 and 3 Products

links are to other methods guide abstracts, not to specific MODIS products

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Sensor Specifications

MODIS is in a sun-synchronous orbit meaning it crosses over any given latitude at the same time each day. It flies at an altitude of 705 km and covers the entire Earth in 1-2 days. It has a swath width of 2,330 km and 12-bit radiometric resolution meaning it can distinguish radiation in 4096 different levels for each band.

Spectral Bands/Wavelengths

Edit the following table or delete it and provide a description of spectral characteristics

Band Resolution Wavelength µm Band Utility
1 250m 0.620-0.670 Land-cover classification, clorophyll
2 250m 0.841-0.876 absorbtion, leaf area index mapping
3 500m 0.459-0.479
4 500m 0.545-0.565 Land, cloud, and aerosol properties
5 500m 1.230-1.250
6 500m 1.628-1.652
7 500m 2.105-2.155
8 1km 0.405-0.420 Ocean color, phytoplankton, and
9 1km 0.438-448 biogeochemistry
10 1km 0.483-0.493
11 1km 0.526-536
12 1km 0.546-556
13 1km 0.662-0.672
14 1km 0.673-0.683
15 1km 0.743-0.753
16 1km 0.862-0.877 Atmospheric water vapor
17 1km 0.890-0.920
18 1km 0.931-0.941
19 1km 0.915-0.965 Surface and cloud temperature
20 1km 3.600-3.840
21 1km 3.929-3.989
22 1km 3.929-3.989
23 1km 4.020-4.080 Atmospheric temperature
24 1km 4.433-4.498
25 1km 4.482-4.549 Cirrus clouds
26 1km 1.360-1.390 Water vapor
27 1km 6.535-6.895
28 1km 7.175-7.475
29 1km 8.400-8.700 Ozone
30 1km 9.580-9.880 Surface and cloud temperature
31 1km 10.780-11.280
32 1km 11.770-12.270 Cloud-top altitude
33 1km 13.185-13.485
34 1km 13.485-13.785
35 1km 13.785-14.085
36 1km 14.085-14.385


MODIS products are available from several sources and usually free to the public.

MODIS Level 1 and atmosphere products are available through the Level 1 and Atmospheric Archive and Distribution System ( LAADS). Level 1 products include raw radiance and calibrated radiance images. Raw digital number images are also available through order. All of the images in their archive are free of charge.

Level 2 and 3 Land Products are available through Nasa’s Warehouse Inventory Search Too (WIST) and the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LPDAAC) Data Pool at the U. S. Geological Survey EROS Data Center (EDC). Examples of level 2 and 3 products are land cover, leaf area index, surface temperature, and burned area. All products on a specific temporal schedule are archived and available free of charge to the general public. Detailed instructions on how to acquire MODIS data through the LPDAAC Data Pool are here:

Another source for MODIS data is the Global Land Cover Facility. They offer several vegetation products made from 16-day and 32-day composite images. The products come in a GeoTIFF format which can be easier to work with in a geographic information system.

Image Format

MODIS data from NASA/USGS are distributed in the Hierarchical Data Format (HDF-EOS). This format can be reprojected or converted into other formats such as GeoTiff, but in the past HDF-EOS has been notoriously difficult to work with. Recent versions of ArcGIS (e.g., version 9.3) can read the HDF-EOS format. A listing of some other tools that can be used to view and convert HDF-EOS images can be found at, but be cautioned that most of these tools are not easy to implement.

Examples of Rangeland Uses

  • Reeves et al (2001) discusses the use of MODIS images to study rangeland productivity
  • Reeves et al (2006) studied the net primary productivity of North Dakota grasslands with MODIS image products
  • Kaurivi et al (2003) compared MODIS based enhanced vegetation index with temperature and rainfall patterns in a semi-arid region

Online applications of MODIS data

  • RangeView, developed by the University of Arizona is a web based tool that helps land managers visualize biophysical conditions across the landscape. Tools within the site allow the user to view MODIS derived vegetation indices and other mapping layers in a format similar to a geographic information system. A series of images can be animated to show how conditions change over time.
  • Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination (GeoMac) – GeoMAC is an internet based mapping application that shows current and past fire locations and perimeters in the conterminous U.S. and Alaska. Users can view fire maps a different scales and print them for use in resource decision making on the ground. MODIS thermal anomaly and fire products, acquired twice daily, are displayed in this mapping tool.
  • USFS Active Fire Mapping ( – This site is similar to GeoMAC in that it displays current fires derived from MODIS fire products on a map of the U.S. The mapping tool also displays forecasted fire danger throughout the country.

Software/Hardware Requirements

Java is required for viewing and selecting data in the LPDAAC Data Pool.

MODIS images can be converted into GeoTiff format making is compatible with ESRI ArcGIS and other GIS platforms. The images can be manipulated and processed in remote sensing software packages such as ENVI and ERDAS Imagine.

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.
  • Kaurivi, Jorry Z. U., Alfredo R. Huete, Kamel Didan (2003) Multitemporal MODIS-EVI relationships with precipitation and temperature at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, In: McClaran, Mitchel P.; Ffolliott, Peter F.; Edminster, Carleton B., tech. coords. Santa Rita Experimental Range: 100 years (1903 to 2003) of accomplishments and contributions; conference proceedings; 2003 October 30–November 1; Tucson, AZ. Proc. RMRS-P-30. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.
  • Reeves, Matthew C., Jerome C. Winslow, Steven W. Running (2001), Mapping weekly rangeland vegetation productivity using MODIS algorithms, Journal of Rangeland Management, 54, 90-105.
  • Reeves, Matthew C., Maosheng Zhao, Steven W. Running (2006), Applying improved estimates of MODIS productivity of characterize grassland vegetation dynamics, Rangeland Ecology and Management, 59: 1-10.

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