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Gao B C. 1996. NDWI--a normalized difference water index for remote sensing of vegetation liquid water from space. Remote Sensing of the Environment 58: 257-266
Year Published: 1996
Abstract: 

The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) has been widely used for remote sensing of vegetation for many years. This index uses radiances or reflectances from a red channel around 0.66 μm and a near-IR channel around 0.86 μm. The red channel is located in the strong chlorophyll absorption region, while the near-IR channel is located in the high reflectance plateau of vegetation canopies. The two channels sense very different depths through vegetation canopies. In this article, another index, namely, the normalized difference water index (NDWI), is proposed for remote sensing of vegetation liquid water from space. NDWI is defined as (ϱ(0.86 μm) − ϱ(1.24 μm))(ϱ(0.86 μm) + ϱ(1.24 μm)), where ϱ represents the radiance in reflectance units. Both the 0.86-μm and the 1.24-μm channels are located in the high reflectance plateau of vegetation canopies. They sense similar depths through vegetation canopies. Absorption by vegetation liquid water near 0.86 μm is negligible. Weak liquid absorption at 1.24 μm is present. Canopy scattering enhances the water absorption. As a result, NDWI is sensitive to changes in liquid water content of vegetation canopies. Atmospheric aerosol scattering effects in the 0.86–1.24 μm region are weak. NDWI is less sensitive to atmospheric effects than NDVI. NDWI does not remove completely the background soil reflectance effects, similar to NDVI. Because the information about vegetation canopies contained in the 1.24-μm channel is very different from that contained in the red channel near 0.66 μm, NDWI should be considered as an independent vegetation index. It is complementary to, not a substitute for NDVI. Laboratory-measured reflectance spectra of stacked green leaves, and spectral imaging data acquired with Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) over Jasper Ridge in California and the High Plains in northern Colorado, are used to demonstrate the usefulness of NDWI. Comparisons between NDWI and NDVI images are also given. link to publication