School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences


Jon Atherton

Any questions, feel free to email me at [J.M.Atherton at]


Research and PhD

I am currently (November 2011) writing up my PhD thesis. My work primarily focuses on (passive) remote sensing of the terrestrial carbon cycle and plant physiology.

What is hyperspectral remote sensing and what is it good for?

My work involves using measurements collected at a range of scales, from a small leaf to a 1 km square space-observed pixel. However the principles of  the measurements are the same regardless of the scale. The main bit of kit I use is rather snappily called a hyperspectral spectroradiometer, which basically boils down to a fancy digital camera. If you imagine that a camera records image intensity at three intervals (red, green, blue) then hyperspectral spectrometers record intensity at hundreds or thousands of intervals (or bands) which include not only the visible wavelengths (as in digital cameras) but also the infrared wavelengths (as in the Predator!). Now if I point my rather pricey camera-like device at a tree or tree canopy I can gather lots of interesting info:


The light that is reflected from a leaf, and measured by my instrument, is like a physiological bar-code. This bar-code, known as a reflectance spectrum, is a goldmine of useful physiological information. For example, we can use these measurements to check for `stress'. Stress occurs when a plant encounters sub-optimal environmental conditions. Stress can cause rapid changes in leaf reflectance (on a time-scale of seconds), our eyes are not tuned to pick up these changes but the instrument is (see my first paper for more info).


Atherton, J., Nichol, C.,Mencuccini, M. and Simpson, K. The utility of optical remote sensing for characterising changes in the photosynthetic efficiency of Norway maple saplings following transplantation, International Journal of Remote Sensing , accepted / in press.

Atherton, J., Nichol, C., Wade, T. and Drolet G. Airborne remote sensing of carbon uptake and ecosystem physiology in a boreal forest, Finland, In prep.

Atherton, J., and Nichol, C. Validation and inversion of a leaf level chlorophyll-fluorescence model, In prep.


Please email me for an up-to-date version.