Continuum removed band depth analysis for detecting the effects of natural gas, methane and ethane on maize reflectance

Marleen F. Noomen*, Andrew K. Skidmore, Freek D. van der Meer, Herbert H T Prins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


It is known that natural gas in the soil affects vegetation health, which may be detected through analysis of reflectance spectra. Since natural gas is invisible, changes in the vegetation could potentially indicate gas leakage. Although it is known that gas in soil affects plant reflectance, the relationship between natural gas and the development and reflectance properties of plants has not been studied. The objective of this study was to test whether natural gas and its two main components, methane and ethane, affect vegetation reflectance in the chlorophyll and water absorption regions. An experiment was carried out in which maize (Zea mays) plants were grown in pots that were flushed with 10 l of gas per day for 39 ±4 days. Leaf reflectance was measured once a week with a spectrophotometer. The reflectance was analysed using continuum removal of the blue (400-550 nm), red (550-750 nm) and two water absorption features (1370-1570 nm and 1870-2170 nm), after which the band depths and normalized band depths were analyzed for each treatment. The band depth analysis showed that ethane caused an initial increase of 10% in reflectance between 560 and 590 nm, followed by a decrease during the course of the experiment. Normalized band depth analysis showed that ethane caused a reflectance shift of 1 to 5 nm towards longer wavelengths compared to the control reflectance in the visible region. All gases caused an increase in reflectance in the water absorption bands. The physiological reflectance index, PRI, which has previously linked water stress to photosynthetic activity, suggested that the hydrocarbon gases (particularly ethane) decreased the photosynthetic activity of the plants. The combination of reduced band depths in the chlorophyll and water absorption regions and the increased PRI suggests that ethane gas in the soil hampered a normal water uptake by maize plants in an early stage of their growth. Although further research is necessary to upscale the results from the laboratory to the field, the increased reflectance in the 560-590 nm region caused by ethane together with the increased PRI are promising indicators for gas leakage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-270
Number of pages9
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • continuum removal
  • ethane
  • methane
  • natural gas
  • PRI
  • reflectance
  • Zea mays


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