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The Surface Energy Balance of Ireland: An

Experimental Application of Surface Energy
Balance System (SEBS) model using ILWIS



Mchel Foley

Gerald Mills

University College Dublin

University College Dublin





Available from: Mchel Foley

Retrieved on: 18 February 2016

CIG2014 The 46th Conference of Irish Geography, 6th-10th May 2014, UCD, Dublin.

The Surface Energy Balance of Ireland: An Experimental

Application of Surface Energy Balance System (SEBS) model
using ILWIS software

Martin OConnor *, Mchel Foley , Dr. Gerald Mills


Department of Geography, Planning and Environment Policy, UCD

The surface energy balance describes the partition of net radiation into turbulent sensible
and latent heat exchange with the atmosphere and sensible heat exchange by conduction
with the substrate. The processes described by this partitioning gives rise to the nearsurface climate variations ass differences between surfaces produce distinctive climates.
This paper will present work on the application Surface Energy Balance Systems (SEBS),
which requires three types of input: remote sensing (RS) data, typical meteorological
parameters and radiation data. The RS data is acquired from the MODIS satellite, which is
analysed using ILWIS to extract the required information on surface temperature, vegetation
etc. We applied the model at a resolution of 1km to the island of Ireland using information
from July 2013, a period characterized by calm, clear and warm weather owing to the
presence of a blocking high pressure system. The results of the model will be compared with
observations of the energy balance terms, where available.
Keywords: Surface Energy Balance Model Climate Ireland

1. Introduction
The premise of this project is that understanding
the Surface Energy Balance System (SEBS) is a
key component of understanding the climate of
Ireland. At present the surface energy balance is
only recorded in a small number of locations
around the country. This project itself runs off the
basis that using freely accessible data, from the
moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer
(MODIS) Satellite, the Surface Energy Balance of
Ireland can be modelled using the free software
package Integrated Land and Water Information
System (ILWIS). This project is an experimental
application of ILWIS to model the surface energy
balance of Ireland. The goal of this project is to
assess the capabilities and accuracy of the ILWIS
software at modelling the surface energy balance
of Ireland. The surface energy balance is
expressed as:
Q*= QH + QE + QG
Where Q* is net radiation, QH is sensible heat
flux, QE is the latent heat flux, and QG is
substrate heat flux. Net radiation (Q*) is defined
as: Q* = K K + L L, where K is shortwave
radiation and L is long wave radiation.
Understanding the surface energy
balance is key to understanding other aspects of
the climate. The surface energy balance is the
engine that governs the possible interactions
between the surface and atmosphere, as it
dictates the transfer of energy with the Earths
system. The surface energy balance describes
the amount of shortwave radiation, net flow of
energy into Earth, and the long wave
radiation reemitted out to space. This flow of

energy into the system is what governs the

changes within both the planets weather patterns
and the magnitude of its many climates.

2. Project Software
The Integrated Land and Water Information
System (ILWIS), is a free piece of Geographic
Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing
software. ILWIS contains a full suite of
capabilities, which include: image processing,
spatial analysis, digital mapping, and Surface
Energy Balance processing and pre-processing
functionality. Using ILWIS required time to learn
the processes and functions, but in saying that
users of other GIS software would notice a
familiar look and feel to ILWIS.
ILWIS is used in this project to prepare
the raw data for use in running the SEBS model.
The initial stages of this research require the use
of ILWISs pre-processing functions to prepare
the raw MODIS data for use in the SEBS model.
The pre-processing stage of this project entails
the manipulation of the raw MODIS data into
various raster maps, each containing specific
sets of data, which will later be used to create
components necessary to run the SEBS model.

3. Methodology
3.1 Data Collection
3.1.1 MODIS
MODIS is a spectral imaging satellite
which is capable of recording on 36 different
spectral bands (visible and inferred), at a medium

CIG2014 The 46th Conference of Irish Geography, 6th-10th May 2014, UCD, Dublin.

resolution of 250m, 500m and 1Km, every 1 to 2

days. Due to the frequency at which the satellite
scans, these freely available data sets are
constantly updated giving the public access to
detailed spectral images of the entire Earth.
3.2 Data Extraction
3.2.1 MODIS Swath Tool
MODIS Swath Tool as two functions,
firstly it is used to extract the relevant 12 bands
from the MODIS file and 5 from the associated
Geo-location file, while simultaneously clipping
the MODIS image to better suit the study area
and the application for this project. The MODIS
bands relevant to this project are: 1-7, 17-19, 31
and 32.
3.2.2 HDFView
Upon extraction of the relevant bands
the MODIS files metadata is examined in
HDFView. This allowed us to access information
necessary for importing and correction in ILWIS.
Information on reflectance/radiance values and
corresponding offset data was extracted from the
MODIS metadata and stored in Excel
spreadsheets for future use.
3.3 ILWIS Pre-Processing
3.3.1 Import and Correction
Once the relevant data has been
extracted from the MODIS metadata it must be
imported into ILWIS and corrected using
information on reflectance/radiance values found
within the relevant MODIS bands metadata.
These 17 processed bands become the database
of raster maps used for the remainder of the preprocessing stage of the project.
3.3.2 Brightness Temperature
The brightness temperature function
converts MODIS bands 31 and 32 from radiances
to blackbody temperatures using the Planck
equation. Theses output raster maps are input
components for later functions.
3.3.3 Water Vapour
Water Vapour content in the atmosphere
is estimated using the radiance values of MODIS
bands 2, 17, 18, and 19. In order to run later
calculations it is necessary to know the current
atmospheric water vapour content, as water
vapour in the atmosphere impacts the level of
solar radiation which reaches the Earths surface.
Later functions will use the water vapour map to
correct for atmospheric water vapour content,
usually by using this raster map to remove the
water vapour content from later calculations.
3.3.4 Atmospheric Correction
The atmospheric correction function is
used to correct for atmospheric interference
between the satellite and the surface. This
function basically removes the atmosphere from
future equations, leaving just the satellites
reading and the surfaces responses to solar
radiation. This processing was applied to bands
1-5, and 7.

3.3.5 Land Surface Albedo

Land Surface Albedo is a key
component to understanding and calculating the
surface energy balance, albedo refers to the
reflectivity of a surface. Urban areas they are
typically comprise of low albedo materials,
landscapes are comprised of higher albedo
material/land cover. The land surface albedo is
an important factor in calculating the surface
energy balance because of influences that the
wide variety of land covers have on the reflected
solar radiation. ILWIS calculates albedo using the
outputs from the Atmospheric Correction function.
3.3.6 Emissivity
Emissivity refers to the amount of
thermal radiation emitted by a given surface,
which is between the range of 0 (perfect reflector)
and 1 (perfect emitter). Along with generating the
Emissivity this function also creates emissivity
difference and Normalized Difference Vegetation
Index (NDVI) raster maps. These outputs are
components of the SEBS model.
3.3.7 Land Surface Temperature (LST)
LST is the final step of the preprocessing stage of the project. The LST function
requires input of a visible (band 31) and near
inferred (band 32) spectral band in order to
calculate the LST. The LST is the final step in the
pre-processing stage of the project. All previously
generated raster maps are now the components
for use in the final SEBS model calculation.
3.3 SEBS
Upon the completion of the preprocessing stage the components generated are
inputted into the SEBS model function within
ILWIS. In addition to the components described
above additional meteorological data is needed in
order to complete the SEBS inputs. This data can
be collected from various meteorological
websites, for this project Met ireann and
Weather Underground were used. An alternative
approach to this requires downloading Global
Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) data.
The GLDAS data contains global meteorological
data which can then be converted into a raster
map using a combination of BEAM and ILWIS
software packages. General data was used over
the GLDAS data for this project due to time
constraints and software issues. The data for the
specific date was accessed via the Met ireann
and Weather Underground websites. The
additional meteorological data that is required to
run the SEBS model is: Specific humidity (kg/kg),
wind speed (m/s), air temperature (Celsius),
surface pressure (Pa), mean daily air
temperature (Celsius), and sunshine hours per
The SEBS model also allowed for input
of land use maps in order to increase the
accuracy of the models output. These options
were excluded from this project due to insufficient
data or access to necessary the data. Upon the

CIG2014 The 46th Conference of Irish Geography, 6th-10th May 2014, UCD, Dublin.

completion of the SEBS model ILWIS generates

a multitude of raster maps, each map is a
component of the SEB.

4. Results
Upon the completion of the SEBS function ILWIS
returns fifteen separate ILWIS maps. These
maps can be added to a single pixel information
window and view as a single image, which
contains the all the information from the
combined raster maps. Figures 1-4 illustrate the
key components of the surface energy balance,
which are: net radiation (Q*), sensible heat flux
(QH), latent heat flux (QE), and substrate heat
flux (QG).


Q*= QH + QE + QG
As stated earlier the SEB is expressed as the
above equation. ILWIS generates these
components as individual raster maps, as seen in
figures 1-4, along with a multitude of additional
raster map outputs:

Evaporative fraction
Daily evaporation
Relative evaporation
Soil heat flux
Sensible heat flux at the dry limit
Sensible heat flux
Sensible heat flux at the wet limit
Net radiation
Latent heat flux
Leaf area index
Roughness height for momentum
transfer (m)
Stability corrections
Scalar roughness height for heat
transfer (m)
Difference between LST and air
kB^-1 value

Many of these outputs require additional data in

order to increase their accuracy but as stated
previously the data was unobtainable or technical
issues restricted the use of more complex
The clear distinction seen between
Dublin City and the surrounding rural
environment indicates that the SEBS model has
outputted expected results when looking at how
landscapes in relation to sensible, latent, and
substrate heat fluxes.




CIG2014 The 46th Conference of Irish Geography, 6th-10th May 2014, UCD, Dublin.

5. Discussion
It is evident from figures 1-4 that running the
SEBS model to its full capability requires data for
days that have zero cloud cover. The data used
for this project was the clearest that could be
obtained but still limited cloud cover causes
issues for ILWIS in calculating the SEB for
As can be seen in figures 2, 3, and 4
Dublin is clearly distinguishable from the
surrounding non-urban/rural area. It is expected
that urbanised areas would stand out in the
SEBS output. This is due to the different heat
storage and heat radiation properties of common
building material when compared to the natural
land cover associated with non-urban/rural
The major issue with the SEBS output is
with regard to cloud cover interfering with the
computation of the SEBS. The large blue areas
present in figure 2 are areas of cloud cover.
ILWIS treats the cloud cover as if it is the surface
because ILWIS interprets the MODIS data as
being entirely surface data. Focusing on figure 2
ILWIS returns very low sensible heat values for
the cloud cover, which is expected, but this
means there is a far larger gap between values
than is present at the surface. This negatively
influences the way the results are displayed.

6. Conclusion
ILWIS is capable of modelling the SEB of Ireland
accurately but is restricted by the quality of the
data available. The quality of the data available
varies wildly as it is from the MODIS satellite. The
time of the MODIS passes vary and in general it
is difficult to get images of Ireland which are clear
of cloud cover. There is a large amount of trial
and error when combing the MODIS website for
useable data. The data used for this project was
the clearest day that could be found, and there is
still could cover obscuring the surface.
Further work is needed in order to bring
this project to its fullest potential, this includes
both additional data collection and data analysis.
The short comings of this initial project were due
to the inexperience in the use of ILWIS, as well
issues with accessing necessary data.

7. Future Work
Following directly on from this paper our
intentions are to take this project to its original
scale. The original scale of the project was too
ambitious for an experimental application of
ILWIS, both in terms of complexity and time
limitations. The intention is to gain access to all
the necessary or available data that ILWIS allows
as inputs in order to refine the SEBS outputs.
This will greatly increase the accuracy of the
SEBS outputs and allow for the best cases to be
compared to observation data from around the

Once all the necessary data becomes

available and the technical issues have been
overcome the intention is to take this
experimental application on ILWIS on to a longer
time scale study. The initial idea is to study the
change in the SEBS over the course of 2013,
focusing on the changes as the drought period
developed the summer months. This could be
achieved by studying 2013 in three main
conditions/ development conditions), drought
conditions (peak drought conditions), and post
drought conditions (return to normal conditions).
This project can also lead into a
teaching application for basic modelling of the
SEBS in order to give students a taste for
modelling the physical environment. ILWIS can
be utilised as a great teaching tool because it is
easy to use with the right guidance as well as the
relatively short computation time of the model
outputs. These qualities of ILWIS allow for its use
as a teaching tool.

8. References
Sobrino, J.A. and N. Raissoini, 2003, Surface
temperature and water vapour retrieval from
MODIS data, International Journal of Remote
Sensing, VOL. 24, NO. 24, 5161-5182
Mirador Earth Science Data Search Tool,