Beyond Cloud: How to make satellite imagery cloud-free for agriculture?

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May 21, 2021

The issue of cloud coverage in satellite imagery is not new. Clouds plague observations, yet there are few existing solutions to overcome this huge limitation.  So we created the Beyond Cloud solution to change the game.

Everyone has experienced this frustration at least once: Not being able to get crop information from satellites during a critical point within the growing season. This “blindness” can last up to months in certain parts of the world, and destroys the trust that farmers have in satellite crop health monitoring.

Map of global annual afternoon cloudiness derived from observations from the Aqua satellite (unit in cloud fraction)

And this problem is global. In the image above you can see the average cloud coverage percentage over each part of the world. Most agricultural regions are covered by clouds 50% of the time, thus reducing the amount of available optical satellite images significantly. This reliability issue hinders satellite imagery and is the main reason why farm management solutions see satellite data more as a risk rather than an opportunity.

To turn this situation around, we created Beyond Cloud product. This AI-based solution provides NDVI and LAI, two of the most popular vegetation indices for crop health monitoring and scouting, unaffected by clouds. The number of these images is also higher than traditional optical imagery which means that on average, growers get access up to 5 times more (depending on the location) images per year with 100% reliability ! Let’s discover how we achieve this incredible feat.

Building Beyond Cloud

We created the Beyond Cloud product by mixing ground field measurements, optical satellite imagery, radar satellite imagery (SAR) and machine learning techniques.

The use of SAR imagery is crucial since it is the core data on which we detect the crop health. The main benefit of SAR imagery in this case is that it is not affected by cloud coverage, which means that we always get data. We did an in-depth article about how SAR imagery can be used in agriculture, that you can read here.

Our main challenge in building this solution was to be able to correlate SAR imagery with ground measurements and optical imagery. We ensure high field level accuracy by validation against ground truth data. 

Beyond Cloud Chartflow

As you can see above, the process had several steps, identical for each crop:

  1. Gather historical data (optical and ground truth data) with field boundaries. This data will be used as a validation tool. For the Beyond Cloud LAI we used the Leaf Area Index (LAI) data we got from optical satellite imagery and from ground truth measurements. We got several thousands of measurements on the ground done on a large variety of crops at different periods of time, to ensure that the data is representative.
  2. Find the corresponding SAR satellite images.
  3. Compare & calibrate our proprietary Beyond cloud SAR based AI model to the recorded ground truth data.  To go more in depth of how AI can be used with satellite imagery, we invite you to read our article here.
  4. Validate the accuracy of our model by comparing it to optical historical data not used in step 3.

The final result is an image very similar to what you would get using optical satellite imagery, as you can see below. The image on the right is the measure we get using optical imagery, and the image on the left was achieved using Beyond Cloud.

The image on the left is Beyond Cloud measurement, and the image on the right is optical imagery measurement.

All our models created have an accuracy of at least 85%, which ensures that the solution is reliable. We have tested the solution on most cereals as well as major europeans crops. We can quickly expand it to a new crop should there be some specific request.

What does Beyond Cloud mean for agriculture ?

This solution is a huge step forward for satellite imagery crop monitoring and scouting . The benefits are numerous:

  • It makes satellite data more reliable than ever
  • It provides more and better crop data with less cost
  • It’s cost-effective and scalable
  • It transforms a risk into an opportunity and a competitive advantage for farm management solutions

If you are interested in trying out Beyond Cloud we invite you to reach out to us here. SpaceSense is a leading provider of advanced satellite data. By combining the power of satellite imagery and AI, our solutions can be quickly adapted to each local environment and are deployable via APIs on a global scale. We are now monitoring 4 million acres over 10 countries daily.

Learn more about what we offer on our solutions page.

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