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Sentinel 2 Bands and Combinations

Sentinel 2 Bands and Combinations

There are 13 Sentinel-2 bands in total. Each band is 10, 20, or 60 meters in pixel size.

Sentinel 2 consists of 2 satellites. First came Sentinel 2A which was launched in 2015. Next came Sentinel 2b in 2017.

Two additional satellites (Sentinel 2C and 2D) are planned to launch in 2024. This will make a total of four Sentinel-2 satellites.

Overall, these 2 additional satellites will cut the revisit time in half.

Sentinel 2 Bands

Sentinel-2 carries the Multispectral Imager (MSI). This sensor delivers 13 spectral bands ranging from 10 to 60-meter pixel size.

  • Its blue (B2), green (B3), red (B4), and near-infrared (B8) channels have a 10-meter resolution.
  • Next, its red edge (B5), near-infrared NIR (B6, B7, and B8A), and short-wave infrared SWIR (B11 and B12) have a ground sampling distance of 20 meters.
  • Finally, its coastal aerosol (B1) and cirrus band (B10) have a 60-meter pixel size.
BandResolutionCentral WavelengthDescription
B160 m443 nmUltra Blue (Coastal and Aerosol)
B210 m490 nmBlue
B310 m560 nmGreen
B410 m665 nmRed
B520 m705 nmVisible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B620 m740 nmVisible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B720 m783 nmVisible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B810 m842 nmVisible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B8a20 m865 nmVisible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B960 m940 nmShort Wave Infrared (SWIR)
B1060 m1375 nmShort Wave Infrared (SWIR)
B1120 m1610 nmShort Wave Infrared (SWIR)
B1220 m2190 nmShort Wave Infrared (SWIR)

Sentinel Band Combinations

We use band combinations to better understand the features in imagery. The way we do this is by rearranging the available channels in creative ways.

By using band combinations, we can extract specific information from an image. For example, there are band combinations that highlight geologic, agricultural, or vegetation features in an image.

If you want to see Sentinel band combinations for yourself, you can check out the Sentinel Playground. It visualizes the band combinations below, as well as several more.

Natural Color (B4, B3, B2)

Sentinel 2 Natural Color

The natural color band combination uses the red (B4), green (B3), and blue (B2) channels. Its purpose is to display imagery the same way our eyes see the world. Just like how we see, healthy vegetation is green. Next, urban features often appear white and grey. Finally, water is a shade of dark blue depending on how clean it is.

Color Infrared (B8, B4, B3)

Sentinel 2 Color Infrared

The color infrared band combination is meant to emphasize healthy and unhealthy vegetation. By using the near-infrared (B8) band, it’s especially good at reflecting chlorophyll. This is why in a color infrared image, denser vegetation is red. But urban areas are white.

Short-Wave Infrared (B12, B8A, B4)

Sentinel 2 Shortwave Infrared

The short-wave infrared band combination uses SWIR (B12), NIR (B8A), and red (B4). This composite shows vegetation in various shades of green. In general, darker shades of green indicate denser vegetation. But brown is indicative of bare soil and built-up areas.

Agriculture (B11, B8, B2)

Sentinel 2 Agriculture

The agriculture band combination uses SWIR-1 (B11), near-infrared (B8), and blue (B2). It’s mostly used to monitor the health of crops because of how it uses short-wave and near-infrared. Both these bands are particularly good at highlighting dense vegetation that appears as dark green.

Geology (B12, B11, B2)

Sentinel 2 Geology

The geology band combination is a neat application for finding geological features. This includes faults, lithology, and geological formations. By leveraging the SWIR-2 (B12), SWIR-1 (B11), and blue (B2) bands, geologists tend to use this Sentinel band combination for their analysis.

Bathymetric (B4, B3, B1)

Sentinel 2 Bathymetric

As the name implies, the bathymetric band combination is good for coastal studies. The bathymetric band combination uses the red (B4), green (B3), and coastal band (B1). Using the coastal aerosol band is good for estimating suspended sediment in the water.

Vegetation Index (B8-B4)/(B8+B4)

Sentinel 2 Vegetation Index

Because near-infrared (which vegetation strongly reflects) and red light (which vegetation absorbs), the vegetation index is good for quantifying the amount of vegetation. The formula for the normalized difference vegetation index is (B8-B4)/(B8+B4). While high values suggest dense canopy, low or negative values indicate urban and water features.

Moisture Index (B8A-B11)/(B8A+B11)

Sentinel 2 Moisture Index

The moisture index is ideal for finding water stress in plants. It uses the short-wave and near-infrared to generate an index of moisture content. In general, wetter vegetation has higher values. But lower moisture index values suggest plants are under stress from insufficient moisture.

Sentinel 2 Data Access and Software

If you’re looking to download Sentinel 2 data, your best bet is the Sentinel Copernicus Browser (previously known as Sentinels Scientific Data Hub)

  • This data portal is managed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and contains all the latest acquisitions from all the Sentinel satellites.
  • If you want a step-by-step guide, then we’ve created a tutorial on how to download Sentinel 2 imagery.
  • Finally, if you’re looking to analyze, manipulate, or just visualize the imagery, the SNAP Toolbox is completely free for everyone to use.

Well, that’s it for today.

If you’re interested in reading more on band combinations, make sure to check out our spectral signatures cheatsheet.

Or if you’re just looking at finding new and creative ways to use satellite imagery, read our article on 100 remote sensing applications.

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  1. Why did ESA decide to have very good measurement capabilities of this satellite in the spectral range of 640 – 900 nm?
    Why did they equip the satellite with 6 spectral bands, even though 2 spectral bands would be sufficient to calculate NDVI?

  2. In some articles, NDVI =(B8a-B4)/(B8a+B4) would give better result than (B8-B4)/(B8+B4). What is the main reason for using B8a in case of vegetation study?

  3. 12/8/5 and 12/8/4 are also good band combinations for viewing forest fire burn scars and regeneration. The most severely burned areas will be dark red.

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