Lesson 6, Topic 1
In Progress

EO Processing Software Copy

Learning objectives of this topic

  • Discover software packages which can be used for RS applications
  • Learn about their individual strengths and weaknesses

In this topic you will get to know which software packages you can use to process remotely sensed data. Recently, more and more open-source (freely) available software packages were being built and constantly improved by the community.

Please note that the presented software packages are just some more popular examples of open-source remote sensing software. There are plenty more to choose from. We are not mentioning common programming environments such as Python (and its IDE’s and libraries) or R/RStudio as these are universal languages that are used broadly in the scientific community outside of the cosmos of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing.


The Science Toolbox Exploitation Platform (SNAP)

View of Sentinel-2 imagery in different band combinations

With the start of the Sentinels back in 2014, the Scientific Toolbox Exploitation Platform was provided by ESA as the official software to process multispectral and microwave data. It provides three separate applications, including the Sentinel-1 Toolbox for SAR Applications and the Sentinel-2 & Sentinel-3 Toolbox for high resolution optical applications. The software libraries can be either accessed through a graphical interface or through several API’s, e.g., via Python commands. The ESA step forum provides answers to wide-ranging questions related to working with Sentinel data of all kinds. You can access it here.


System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses (SAGA) GIS

Processing capabilities of SAGA GIS

SAGA GIS was released in 2004 and can be used for a large variety of remote sensing based applications. It has a huge library grid and imagery processing modules. It is suitable for most remote sensing tasks, but not as intuitive and user-friendly as other remote sensing software. However, due to its long existence, many potential processing and analysis issues were covered in the past by existing user groups online. Due to the C++ programming language on which SAGA was built and the object-oriented system design, some of the raster functionalities of SAGA even outperform the processing speed and quality of paid software packages.


Orfeo ToolBox (OTB): Optical and Radar Federated Earth Observation

Visualization of Sentinel-2 L1C product over Madagascar with Monteverdi 3.0

The Orfeo ToolBox is build up on a cooperative project for remote sensing software including France, Italy and the open source community. It has a variety of tools like image segmentation, classification or filtering, change detection, pan sharpening and large-scale mean-shift segmentation. A great advantage of this toolset is the algorithms can be called from various interfaces such as QuantumGIS, Python and C++ API. While being very flexible and powerful, the implementation can be more difficult for inexperienced users. Error reports and general support can be obtained from via Orfeo’s GitLab.


QGIS Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin (SCP)

Land cover spectral signatures in SCP

Since QGIS is one of the most powerful software packages available for RS processing, there are also a number of very useful plugins. The Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin (SCP) is especially useful because it can easily handle a variety of RS instruments such as Sentinel, Landsat or MODIS data. You can carry out extensive analysis with ease. Besides the data interpretation, the plugin can also pre- and post-process RS imagery.


Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) GIS

GRASS GIS visualization tool

GRASS GIS is the oldest of the remote sensing and GIS software packages listed here and has a lot of functions and provides state-of-the-art module libraries. Despite it being unhandy for untrained users it offers for example image classification, edge detection, radiometric corrections and even LiDAR processing as well as 3D analysis tools. It also provides a variety of modelling features, which can be used to estimate water movement, fire behaviour or habitat patches. A major downside is the map functionality, which is not suited for everyday map creation. Luckily there are many tutorials available, and the user community is enormous.


SARbian OS – The Operating System for SAR data

Desktop of the SARbian OS

While the previously mentioned software packages included modules to work with any type of raster data, regardless of their type, SARbian is an operating system (OS) developed at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, that is based on Debian Linux and is designed to process and analyze microwave (or SAR) data only.
Since it is plug’n’play, you can simply put it on any drive, plug it into your computer and start working with SAR data. It comes with SAR processing tools such as SNAP, ASF MapReady as well as pyroSAR, offers specialized tools for SAR polarimetry interferometry. Besides that it also comes with current versions of GIS software packages that were described on this page as well as Python and R. Get the latest info about the SARbian OS here on our site.


In the practical courses that will be following this theoretical course, you will be using some of these software packages and get to work on real-life scenarios, exploring the possibities of remote sensing and GIS.


Learning objectives of this topic

  • Discover software packages which can be used for RS applications
  • Learn about their individual strengths and weaknesses

In this topic you will get to know which software packages you can use to process remotely sensed data. Recently, more and more open-source (freely) available software packages were being built and constantly improved by the community.

Please note that the presented software packages are just some more popular examples of open-source remote sensing software. There are plenty more to choose from. We are not mentioning common programming environments such as Python (and its IDE’s and libraries) or R/RStudio as these are universal languages that are used broadly in the scientific community outside of the cosmos of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing.


The Science Toolbox Exploitation Platform (SNAP)

View of Sentinel-2 imagery in different band combinations

With the start of the Sentinels back in 2014, the Scientific Toolbox Exploitation Platform was provided by ESA as the official software to process multispectral and microwave data. It provides three separate applications, including the Sentinel-1 Toolbox for SAR Applications and the Sentinel-2 & Sentinel-3 Toolbox for high resolution optical applications. The software libraries can be either accessed through a graphical interface or through several API’s, e.g., via Python commands. The ESA step forum provides answers to wide-ranging questions related to working with Sentinel data of all kinds. You can access it here.


System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses (SAGA) GIS

Processing capabilities of SAGA GIS

SAGA GIS was released in 2004 and can be used for a large variety of remote sensing based applications. It has a huge library grid and imagery processing modules. It is suitable for most remote sensing tasks, but not as intuitive and user-friendly as other remote sensing software. However, due to its long existence, many potential processing and analysis issues were covered in the past by existing user groups online. Due to the C++ programming language on which SAGA was built and the object-oriented system design, some of the raster functionalities of SAGA even outperform the processing speed and quality of paid software packages.


Orfeo ToolBox (OTB): Optical and Radar Federated Earth Observation

Visualization of Sentinel-2 L1C product over Madagascar with Monteverdi 3.0

The Orfeo ToolBox is build up on a cooperative project for remote sensing software including France, Italy and the open source community. It has a variety of tools like image segmentation, classification or filtering, change detection, pan sharpening and large-scale mean-shift segmentation. A great advantage of this toolset is the algorithms can be called from various interfaces such as QuantumGIS, Python and C++ API. While being very flexible and powerful, the implementation can be more difficult for inexperienced users. Error reports and general support can be obtained from via Orfeo’s GitLab.


QGIS Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin (SCP)

Land cover spectral signatures in SCP

Since QGIS is one of the most powerful software packages available for RS processing, there are also a number of very useful plugins. The Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin (SCP) is especially useful because it can easily handle a variety of RS instruments such as Sentinel, Landsat or MODIS data. You can carry out extensive analysis with ease. Besides the data interpretation, the plugin can also pre- and post-process RS imagery.


Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) GIS

GRASS GIS visualization tool

GRASS GIS is the oldest of the remote sensing and GIS software packages listed here and has a lot of functions and provides state-of-the-art module libraries. Despite it being unhandy for untrained users it offers for example image classification, edge detection, radiometric corrections and even LiDAR processing as well as 3D analysis tools. It also provides a variety of modelling features, which can be used to estimate water movement, fire behaviour or habitat patches. A major downside is the map functionality, which is not suited for everyday map creation. Luckily there are many tutorials available, and the user community is enormous.


SARbian OS – The Operating System for SAR data

Desktop of the SARbian OS

While the previously mentioned software packages included modules to work with any type of raster data, regardless of their type, SARbian is an operating system (OS) developed at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, that is based on Debian Linux and is designed to process and analyze microwave (or SAR) data only.
Since it is plug’n’play, you can simply put it on any drive, plug it into your computer and start working with SAR data. It comes with SAR processing tools such as SNAP, ASF MapReady as well as pyroSAR, offers specialized tools for SAR polarimetry interferometry. Besides that it also comes with current versions of GIS software packages that were described on this page as well as Python and R. Get the latest info about the SARbian OS here on our site.


In the practical courses that will be following this theoretical course, you will be using some of these software packages and get to work on real-life scenarios, exploring the possibities of remote sensing and GIS.


In this topic you learned about software packages, that you can use to process remote sensing data. Now you are ready to learn, which platforms you can use to download your data.