Changes in thermal infrared spectra of plants caused by temperature and water stress

Maria F. Buitrago*, Thomas A. Groen, Christoph A. Hecker, Andrew K. Skidmore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental stress causes changes in leaves and the structure of plants. Although physiological adaptations to stress by plants have been explored, the effect of stress on the spectral properties in the thermal part of the electromagnetic spectrum (3–16 μm) has not yet been investigated.

In this research two plant species (European beech, Fagus sylvatica and rhododendron, Rhododendron cf. catawbiense) that both grow naturally under temperature limited conditions were selected, representing deciduous and evergreen plants respectively. Besides TIR spectra, Leaf Water Content (LWC) and cuticle thickness were measured as possible variables that can explain the changes in TIR spectra.

The results demonstrated that both species, when exposed to either water or temperature stress, showed significant changes in their TIR spectra. The changes in TIR in response to stress were similar within a species, regardless of the stress imposed on them. However, changes in TIR spectra differed between species. For rhododendron emissivity in TIR increased under stress while for beech it decreased. Both species showed depletion of Leaf Water Content (LWC) under stress, ruling LWC out as a main cause for the change in the TIR spectra. Cuticle thickness remained constant for beech, but increased for rhododendron. This suggests that changes in emissivity may be linked to changes in the cuticle thickness and possibly the structure of cuticle. It is known that spectral changes in this region have a close connection with microstructure and biochemistry of leaves. We propose detailed measurements of these changes in the cuticle to analyze the effect of microstructure on TIR spectra.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-31
Number of pages10
JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Spectral emissivity
  • Water stress
  • Temperature stress
  • Thermal infrared
  • Rhododendron cf. catawbiense
  • Fagus sylvatica


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