Why does NDVI, NDBI, NDWI Ranges From -1 to 1?

Why does NDVI, NDBI, NDWI Ranges From -1 to 1?

The indices calculated from satellite imageries such as Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), Normalized Difference Built Index (NDBI) and Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) have indices value ranges from -1 to 1.

This could be a very basic question for remote sensing and GIS professionals but still, there are many beginners how would like to understand why the above indices range from -1 to 1? The second question that comes in mind is what does these indices value signifies?

Let first go through the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI):

NDVI is a vegetation index to monitor the condition of vegetation or vegetation health. NDVI is the most commonly used vegetation index for monitoring vegetation globally. There are many other vegetation indices such as the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), Ratio Vegetation Index (RVI), and Perpendicular Vegetation Index (PVI) that takes into account the soil emissivity (one of the major limitations of NDVI).

Here, I am discussing only NDVI. You may read about other vegetation indices from the following link: http://goo.gl/xmbUWQ

Mathematically NDVI is calculated using the below formula:

NDVI 1- Normalized Difference Vegetation Index-formula

We know that the chlorophyll content of vegetation absorb strongly the red wavelength of sunlight and reflects in near-infrared wavelengths.

Please have look at the below figure. The figure shows the spectral response of healthy vegetation. In the red band (620 – 750 nm) there is maximum absorption of sunlight and in near-infrared (750 to 1400 nm) maximum of sunlight is reflected back.


Vegetation Spectral Curve






So, when energy is absorbed in a red band its reflectance will be zero (ideally or in case of ice or water).

Now, in the case of healthy vegetation.

ndvi 2-Normalized Difference Vegetation Index

But in the case of dry crop or unhealthy vegetation, the chlorophyll content is either very low or maybe no chlorophyll in case of dry crop.

In below, the spectral curve of unhealthy vegetation shows that there is very little absorption of sunlight or more reflectance in the red band (620 – 750 nm) rather in the case of healthy vegetation. In the near-infrared band ((750 to 1400 nm)) the reflectance is also very low as the maximum of energy is being absorbed in the NIR band.

vegetation spectral curve

Spectral Curve of Healthy and Unhealthy vegetation





Now we can conclude, why NDVI value ranges from -1 to 1?







Now the second question: What is the significance of NDVI value from -1 to 1 in the interpretation of NDVI images?

Upon the classification of NDVI image in various ranges based on the NDVI value following significant information can be extracted from imagery.

  1. Barren rocks, sand, or snow show very low NDVI values (-0.1 to 0.1)
  2. Shrubs and grasslands or senescing crops – 0.2 to 0.5
  3. Dense vegetation or tropical rainforest – 0.6 to 0.9
  4. Deepwater- -1

Normalized Difference Built-up Index (NDBI):

Normalized Difference Built-up Index (NDBI) is used to extract built-up features and have indices range from -1 to 1.


Let’s have a look at the spectral curve of Built-Up and find out the solution why NDBI ranges from -1 to 1.

built up

Spectral Curve of Built-up


Use the above logic as of NDVI, to get the answer on your own.

 Normalized Water Index (NDWI):

 Normalized Water Index (NDWI) is an index to extract water bodies from satellite imagery. Following is the formula to derive NDBI;



The logic is the same here for the reason of being NDWI indices value from -1 to 1.

water spectral curve

Spectral Curve of Clear Water and Turbid Water

The NDWI maximizes the reflectance of water by using green band wavelengths and minimizes the low reflectance of NIR by absorbing a maximum of wavelength. As a result, water features are enhanced owing to having positive values and vegetation and soil are suppressed due to having zero or negative values

Read related article: 


Categories: Remote Sensing

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  1. Dariush Ameli
    Dariush Ameli 27 April, 2018, 19:49

    Your article was very helpful with clarify the concept of NDVI. I am still a little bit confused though. When I create my NDVI or NDBI images using ArcGIS Pro indices, the value of pictures is way beyond -1 to 1! for example, my NDVI image value starts from -92 to 36. I guess i have missed a step here and I have no idea how to get that. Would it be something you can teach me here?

    Reply this comment
  2. Gin
    Gin 30 July, 2018, 13:19

    Selamat siang Pak
    Mau nanya kalau yg metode normalized differnce soil indek itu rentangannya -1 sampai 1 apakah benar pak
    Pak aku ngolah kelembaban tanah pake metode NDSI ini tapi hasilnya itu minus semua pak?
    Itu kira2 gimana ya pak?
    Makasi Pak sebelumnya

    Reply this comment
  3. Satti
    Satti 2 April, 2020, 09:57

    Dear, how and from which option you got the (Reflectance and wavelength ) graph?

    Reply this comment

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