Department of Built Environment

Remote Sensing Research Team

We focus on developing methods for monitoring vegetation from space. We have a diverse combination of expertise in remote sensing, spectroscopy, radiative transfer modelling, laser scanning, and forest and environmental sciences.
aerial picture of forest


EU flag and the European research council logo
This project receives funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 771049).

From needles to landscapes: a novel approach to scaling forest spectra (FREEDLES)

European Research Council, Consolidator Grant (2018-2023, PI: Rautiainen)

Accounting for vegetation structure – clumping of foliage into shoots or crowns – is the largest remaining challenge in modelling scattered and absorbed radiation in complex vegetation canopies such as forests. Clumping controls the radiation regime of forest canopies, yet it is poorly quantified.

Our project develops a universal method for quantifying clumping of foliage in forests based on detailed 3D structure and spectral reflectance data. Clumping will be linked to photon recollision probability, an exciting new development in the field of photon transport modelling. Photon recollision probability will, in turn, be used to develop a spectral scaling algorithm which will connect the spectra of vegetation at all hierarchical levels from needles and leaves to crowns, stands and landscapes. The spectral scaling algorithm will be validated with detailed reference measurements in both laboratory and natural conditions, and applied to interpret forest variables from satellite images at different spatial resolutions.

Currently, we are one of the very few remote sensing teams in the entire European Union receiving funding from the European Research Council (ERC). ERC supports investigator-driven, bottom-up breakthrough research by individual research teams. Top-level scientific quality is the sole criterion for receiving their funding.

Spectral Diversity Metrics for Boreal Forests (DIMEBO)

Academy of Finland (2019-2021, PI: Rautiainen)

Hyperspectral remote sensing, or imaging spectroscopy, is rapidly becoming one of the most promising approaches for non-destructive and inexpensive monitoring of plant diversity across spatial and temporal scales. This project grasps the exciting opportunities available for scientific discoveries at the interface of hyperspectral remote sensing and biodiversity studies. The goal of the project is to develop a novel methodology for characterizing woody plant and lichen spectral diversity based on data collected with new mobile hyperspectral cameras and spectrometers, and apply it to mapping species diversity of boreal forests using remote sensing data. The project applies a new combination of disciplines – spectroscopy, remote sensing and taxonomy – and is carried out in collaboration with scientific partners from universities and research institutes in Finland and abroad, and a leading spectral imaging company.

Seasonal dynamics of the boreal region from space: connecting forest albedo to structure and productivity throughout the phenological cycle (BOREALITY)

Academy of Finland (2015-2019, PI: Rautiainen)

Vegetation cover and land-use changes alter the surface albedo, or the extent to which incoming solar radiation is reflected back to the atmosphere and outer space. Even though land surface albedo is a critical variable affecting our climate, it is still among the main uncertainties of the radiation budget in current climate modelling. Research results call for immediate attention to more reliable quantitative predictions of the effect of forests on albedo in the entire boreal zone.

Our project develops an interdisciplinary methodology for assessing boreal albedo and its seasonality based on forest inventory data, forest reflectance modelling and Earth observation data from Eurasia and North America. The project connects satellite-based albedo products to phenological cycles and productivity of boreal forest vegetation, and furthers the understanding of how forest management actions influence albedo.

Optical synergies for spatiotemporal sensing of scalable ecophysiological traits (SENSECO)

COST Action, (2018-2022)

Vegetated ecosystems largely mediate terrestrial gas and energy exchange at the atmosphere-biosphere-pedosphere interface. Information on vegetation status, health and photosynthetic functioning is fundamental to model the dynamic response of vegetation to changing environmental conditions, necessary for climate change and food security studies. Satellite and airborne sensors provide the opportunity to collect spatially continuous information of vegetation globally. This COST Action develops the capabilities for interpretation of multi-sensor and multi-scale satellite and airborne data. We also develop common protocols for community use.

Team members

Miina Rautiainen

Professori (Associate professor)


Find more information on our research and publications in the Research database by clicking on the names of the team members above.

Doctoral dissertations

  • Jussi Juola (2020-): Mobile hyperspectral imaging of boreal tree species
  • Daniel Schraik (2018-): Clumping in forest radiation regime models
  • Petri Forsström (2018-): Multiangular spectra of forests at multiple scales: analysis of multiangular spectral data collected in lab and in situ, from leaves to entire forests
  • Sara Alibakhshi (2016-): Monitoring the spatio-temporal behavior of rapidly changing ecosystems with satellite data
  • Hadi (2015-2018): Satellite optical remote sensing of forest canopy cover in boreal and tropical biomes
Remote sensing research team member conducting field measurements of plant spectra and forest structure


Our team has wide expertise in field and laboratory measurements of plant spectra and forest structure.

We have a dark laboratory room and a pool of spectral measurement devices needed for field and laboratory measurements of plant spectra. Our instruments include e.g., spectroradiometers (350-2500 nm), single and double-integrating spheres, laboratory lamps, reference standards, and a mobile hyperspectral camera.

For forest structure measurements, we have e.g., standard forest inventory devices, a terrestrial laser scanner, LAI-2200 Plant Canopy Analyzer and equipment for hemispherical digital photography.


If you are interested in scientific collaboration, or our spectral data sets or codes, please get in touch with us!

Professor Miina Rautiainen
Aalto University, School of Engineering, Department of Built Environment
[email protected]
Twitter: @miinaraut



Related news

Research & Art Published:

Albedo matters for the climate and forestry can have an impact on it

A research project conducted by Aalto University found that favoring broadleaved species in boreal forestry is a climate-friendly option when considering the forest albedo. Therefore, forest management actions can directly affect forest albedo, and hence the climate, without decreasing forest productivity.
Professor Miina Rautiainen
Research & Art Published:

Miina Rautiainen’s forest images are taken from a height of hundreds of kilometres

As a professor of remote sensing, she develops methods that are needed in areas such as climate change research.
Honoured Published:

Geoinformatics master’s thesis honoured at industry event

Joona Laine’s master’s thesis studies crop identification with satellite imagery.
Example deforestation maps (bottom) are produced using the satellite data and proposed algorithm. The maps show the time of deforestation events aggregated by years. The high resolution images (top) for validation purpose were obtained through Digital Globe viewing service.
Research & Art Published:

Satellite data help reveal the loss of tropical rainforests

A recent study piloted a new monitoring method that could help in detecting illegal deforestation and estimating CO2 emissions caused by forest loss.
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  • Updated:
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