Extracting Raster Values for Points

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Author(s): swinsem  Published: Jan 12, 2021
This tutorial uses the Earth Engine Code Editor JavaScript API.

Extracting raster values for points or plots is essential for many types of projects. This tutorial will show you how to use Earth Engine to get a full time series of image values for points or plots in your dataset. We will lay out the process and functions for how to extract raster values for points using any dataset and then apply them to a few examples.


Anyone working with field data collected in plots will likely need to extract raster data for those plots at some point. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), for example, is commonly used as a measure for vegetation greenness and can be calculated from a wide variety of satellite datasets. You may also want to use climate data for your plots, or extract reflectance for satellite multispectral bands so you can calculate your own indices later. This process works for a single image or image collections. Running the process over an image collection will produce a table with values from each image in the collection per point. Image collections can be processed before extraction as needed, for example by masking clouds from satellite imagery or by constraining the dates needed for a particular research question. In this tutorial, the data extracted from rasters are exported to a table for analysis, where each row of the table corresponds to a unique point-image combination.

In fieldwork, researchers often work with plots, which are commonly recorded as polygon files or as a center point with a set radius. It is rare that plots will be set directly in the center of pixels from your desired raster dataset, and many field GPS units have positioning errors. Because of these issues, it may be important to use the average of adjacent pixels to estimate the central value, or ‘neighborhood’ mean (Miller and Thode 2007, Cansler and McKenzie 2012). This is sometimes referred to as a focal mean or a weighted mean. To choose the size of your neighborhood, you will need to consider your research questions, the spatial resolution of the dataset, the size of your field plot, and the error from your GPS. For example, the raster value extracted for randomly placed 20 m diameter plots would likely merit use of a neighborhood mean when using Sentinel-2 or Landsat 8, at 10 and 30 m spatial resolution respectively, while using a thermal band from MODIS at 1000 m may not. While much of this tutorial is written with plot points and buffers in mind, a polygon asset with predefined regions will serve the same purpose.


Two functions are provided; copy and paste them into your script:

  • A function to generate circular or square regions from buffered points.
  • A function to extract image pixel neighborhood statistics for a given region.

bufferPoints(radius, bounds) ⇒ Function

bufferPoints is a function generator that returns a function for adding a buffer to points and optionally transforming to rectangular bounds.

Param Type Description
radius Number Buffer radius (m).
[bounds=false] Boolean An optional flag indicating whether to transform buffered point (circle) to rectangular bounds or not.
function bufferPoints(radius, bounds) {
  return function(pt) {
    pt = ee.Feature(pt);
    return bounds ? pt.buffer(radius).bounds() : pt.buffer(radius);

zonalStats(fc, params) ⇒ ee.FeatureCollection

zonalStats is a function for reducing images in an image collection by regions defined in a feature collection. Note that reductions that return null statistics are filtered out of the resulting feature collection. Null statistics occur when there are no valid pixels intersecting the region being reduced. This situation can be caused by points that are outside of an image or image regions are masked for quality or clouds.

Param Type Description
ic ee.ImageCollection Image collection to extract values from.
fc ee.FeatureCollection Feature collection that provides regions to reduce image pixels by.
[params] Object An optional Object that provides function arguments.
[params.reducer=ee.Reducer.mean()] ee.Reducer The reducer to apply. Optional.
[params.scale=null] Number A nominal scale in meters of the projection to work in. If null, the native nominal image scale is used. Optional.
[params.crs=null] String The projection to work in. If null, the native image CRS is used. Optional.
[params.bands=null] Array A list of image band names to reduce values for. If null, all bands will be reduced. Band names define column names in the resulting reduction table. Optional.
[params.bandsRename=null] Array A list of desired image band names. The length and order must correspond to the params.bands list. If null, band names will be unchanged. Band names define column names in the resulting reduction table. Optional.
[params.imgProps=null] Array A list of image properties to include in the table of region reduction results. If null, all image properties are included. Optional.
[params.imgPropsRename=null] Array A list of image property names to replace those provided by params.imgProps. The length and order must match the params.imgProps entries. Optional.
function zonalStats(ic, fc, params) {
  // Initialize internal params dictionary.
  var _params = {
    reducer: ee.Reducer.mean(),
    scale: null,
    crs: null,
    bands: null,
    bandsRename: null,
    imgProps: null,
    imgPropsRename: null,
    datetimeName: 'datetime',
    datetimeFormat: 'YYYY-MM-dd HH:MM:ss'

  // Replace initialized params with provided params.
  if (params) {
    for (var param in params) {
      _params[param] = params[param] || _params[param];

  // Set default parameters based on an image representative.
  var imgRep = ic.first();
  var nonSystemImgProps = ee.Feature(null)
  if (!_params.bands) _params.bands = imgRep.bandNames();
  if (!_params.bandsRename) _params.bandsRename = _params.bands;
  if (!_params.imgProps) _params.imgProps = nonSystemImgProps;
  if (!_params.imgPropsRename) _params.imgPropsRename = _params.imgProps;

  // Map the reduceRegions function over the image collection.
  var results = ic.map(function(img) {
    // Select bands (optionally rename), set a datetime & timestamp property.
    img = ee.Image(img.select(_params.bands, _params.bandsRename))
      .set(_params.datetimeName, img.date().format(_params.datetimeFormat))
      .set('timestamp', img.get('system:time_start'));

    // Define final image property dictionary to set in output features.
    var propsFrom = ee.List(_params.imgProps)
      .cat(ee.List([_params.datetimeName, 'timestamp']));
    var propsTo = ee.List(_params.imgPropsRename)
      .cat(ee.List([_params.datetimeName, 'timestamp']));
    var imgProps = img.toDictionary(propsFrom).rename(propsFrom, propsTo);

    // Subset points that intersect the given image.
    var fcSub = fc.filterBounds(img.geometry());

    // Reduce the image by regions.
    return img.reduceRegions({
      collection: fcSub,
      reducer: _params.reducer,
      scale: _params.scale,
      crs: _params.crs
    // Add metadata to each feature.
    .map(function(f) {
      return f.set(imgProps);

  return results;

Point collection import

If the points or polygons you want to extract raster statistics for are stored in a local shapefile or csv file, first upload the data to your Earth Engine assets. All columns in your vector file, such as the plot name, will be retained through this process.

Assuming you have an Earth Engine table asset ready, import the asset into your script by hovering over the name of the asset and clicking the arrow at the right side, or by calling it in your script with the following code:

var pts = ee.FeatureCollection('users/yourUsername/yourAsset');

If you prefer to define points dynamically, you can add them to your script using the geometry tools, or code them as a FeatureCollection like we'll do here.

The following points will be used for the remainder of the tutorial. Note that a unique plot_id property is added to each point. A unique plot or point ID is important to include in your vector dataset for future filtering and joining.

var pts = ee.FeatureCollection([
  ee.Feature(ee.Geometry.Point([-118.6010, 37.0777]), {plot_id: 1}),
  ee.Feature(ee.Geometry.Point([-118.5896, 37.0778]), {plot_id: 2}),
  ee.Feature(ee.Geometry.Point([-118.5842, 37.0805]), {plot_id: 3}),
  ee.Feature(ee.Geometry.Point([-118.5994, 37.0936]), {plot_id: 4}),
  ee.Feature(ee.Geometry.Point([-118.5861, 37.0567]), {plot_id: 5})

Neighborhood statistic examples

The following examples demonstrate extracting raster neighborhood statistics for:

  • A single raster with elevation and slope bands.
  • A multi-band MODIS time series.
  • A multi-band Landsat time series.

In each example, the points imported in the previous section will be buffered and then used as regions to extract zonal statistics for each image in the respective image collection.

Topographic variables

This example demonstrates how to calculate zonal statistics for a single, multi-band image. The image contains topographic bands representing elevation and slope.

Buffer the points

Apply a 45 m radius buffer to the points defined previously by mapping the bufferPoints function over the feature collection. The radius is set to 45 m to correspond to the 90 m pixel resolution of the DEM. In this case, circles are used instead of squares (set the second argument as false i.e., do not use bounds).

var ptsTopo = pts.map(bufferPoints(45, false));

Calculate zonal statistics

Two important things to note about the zonalStats function that this example addresses:

  • It only accepts an ee.ImageCollection , not an ee.Image; single images must be wrapped in an image collection.
  • It expects every image in the input image collection to have a timestamp property named 'system:time_start' with values representing milliseconds from 00:00:00 UTC on 1 January 1970; most datasets should have this property, otherwise one should be added.
// Import the MERIT global elevation dataset.
var elev = ee.Image('MERIT/DEM/v1_0_3');

// Calculate slope from the DEM.
var slope = ee.Terrain.slope(elev);

// Concatenate elevation and slope as two bands of an image.
var topo = ee.Image.cat(elev, slope)
  // Computed images do not have a 'system:time_start' property; add one based
  // on when the data were collected.
  .set('system:time_start', ee.Date('2000-01-01').millis());

// Wrap the single image in an ImageCollection for use in the zonalStats function.
var topoCol = ee.ImageCollection([topo]);

Define arguments for the zonalStats function and then run it. Note that we are accepting defaults for the reducer, scale, crs, and image properties to copy over to the resulting feature collection. Refer to the function definition above for defaults.

// Define parameters for the zonalStats function.
var params = {
  bands: [0, 1],
  bandsRename: ['elevation', 'slope']

// Extract zonal statistics per point per image.
var ptsTopoStats = zonalStats(topoCol, ptsTopo, params);

The result is a copy of the buffered point feature collection with new properties added for the region reduction of each selected image band according to the given reducer. It is essentially a table that looks like this:

plot_id timestamp datetime elevation slope
1 946684800000 2000-01-01 00:01:00 2648.1 29.7
2 946684800000 2000-01-01 00:01:00 2888.2 33.9
3 946684800000 2000-01-01 00:01:00 3267.8 35.8
4 946684800000 2000-01-01 00:01:00 2790.7 25.1
5 946684800000 2000-01-01 00:01:00 2559.4 29.4

MODIS time series

A time series of MODIS 8-day surface reflectance composites demonstrates how to calculate zonal statistics for a multi-band image collection that requires no preprocessing i.e., cloud masking, computation.

Buffer the points

In this example, suppose the point collection represents center points for field plots that are 100 x 100 m, apply a 50 m radius buffer to the points to match the size of the plot. Since a square region is needed, set the second argument of the bufferPoints function to true, so that the bounds of the buffered points are returned.

var ptsModis = pts.map(bufferPoints(50, true));

Calculate zonal statistics

Import the MODIS 500 m global 8-day surface reflectance composite collection and filter the collection to include data for July, August, and September from 2015 through 2019.

var modisCol = ee.ImageCollection('MODIS/006/MOD09A1')
  .filterDate('2015-01-01', '2020-01-01')
  .filter(ee.Filter.calendarRange(183, 245, 'DAY_OF_YEAR'));

Reduce each image in the collection by each plot according to the following parameters. Note that this time the reducer is defined as the neighborhood median (ee.Reducer.median) instead of the default mean, and that scale, crs, and properties for the datetime are explicitly defined.

// Define parameters for the zonalStats function.
var params = {
  reducer: ee.Reducer.median(),
  scale: 500,
  crs: 'EPSG:5070',
  bands: ['sur_refl_b01', 'sur_refl_b02', 'sur_refl_b06'],
  bandsRename: ['modis_red', 'modis_nir', 'modis_swir'],
  datetimeName: 'date',
  datetimeFormat: 'YYYY-MM-dd'

// Extract zonal statistics per point per image.
var ptsModisStats = zonalStats(modisCol, ptsModis, params);

The result is a feature collection with a feature for all combinations of plots and images. Feature properties include those from the plot asset, respective image date, as well as any respective non-system image properties.

Landsat time series

This example combines Landsat surface reflectance imagery across three instruments: Thematic Mapper (TM) from Landsat 5, Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) from Landsat 7, and Operational Land Imager (OLI) from Landsat 8.

The following section prepares these collections so that band names are consistent and cloud masks are applied. Reflectance among corresponding bands are roughly congruent for the three sensors when using the surface reflectance product, therefore the processing steps that follow do not address inter-sensor harmonization. If you would like to apply a correction, please see the "Landsat ETM+ to OLI Harmonization" tutorial for more information on the subject.

Prepare the Landsat image collection

First, define the function to mask cloud and shadow pixels.

function fmask(img) {
  var cloudShadowBitMask = 1 << 3;
  var cloudsBitMask = 1 << 5;
  var qa = img.select('pixel_qa');
  var mask = qa.bitwiseAnd(cloudShadowBitMask).eq(0)
  return img.updateMask(mask);

Next, define functions to select and rename the bands of interest for OLI and TM/ETM+ data. This is important because the band numbers are different between OLI and TM/ETM+, and it will make future index calculations easier.

// Selects and renames bands of interest for Landsat OLI.
function renameOli(img) {
  return img.select(
    ['B2', 'B3', 'B4', 'B5', 'B6', 'B7'],
    ['Blue', 'Green', 'Red', 'NIR', 'SWIR1', 'SWIR2']);

// Selects and renames bands of interest for TM/ETM+.
function renameEtm(img) {
  return img.select(
    ['B1', 'B2', 'B3', 'B4', 'B5', 'B7'],
    ['Blue', 'Green', 'Red', 'NIR', 'SWIR1', 'SWIR2']);

Combine the cloud mask and band renaming functions into preparation functions for OLI and TM/ETM+. If you want to include band harmonization coefficients, you can combine the prepOli and prepEtm functions from the "Landsat ETM+ to OLI Harmonization" tutorial with the functions below.

// Prepares (cloud masks and renames) OLI images.
function prepOli(img) {
  img = fmask(img);
  img = renameOli(img);
  return img;

// Prepares (cloud masks and renames) TM/ETM+ images.
function prepEtm(img) {
  img = fmask(img);
  img = renameEtm(img);
  return img;

Get the Landsat surface reflectance collections for OLI, ETM+, and TM sensors. Filter them by the bounds of the point feature collection and apply the relevant image preparation function.

var ptsLandsat = pts.map(bufferPoints(15, true));

var oliCol = ee.ImageCollection('LANDSAT/LC08/C01/T1_SR')

var etmCol = ee.ImageCollection('LANDSAT/LE07/C01/T1_SR')

var tmCol = ee.ImageCollection('LANDSAT/LT05/C01/T1_SR')

Merge the prepared sensor collections.

var landsatCol = oliCol.merge(etmCol).merge(tmCol);

Calculate zonal statistics

Reduce each image in the collection by each plot according to the following parameters. Note that this example defines the imgProps and imgPropsRename parameters to copy over and rename just two selected image properties: Landsat image ID and the satellite that collected the data.

// Define parameters for the zonalStats function.
var params = {
  reducer: ee.Reducer.mean(),
  scale: 30,
  crs: 'EPSG:5070',
  bands: ['Blue', 'Green', 'Red', 'NIR', 'SWIR1', 'SWIR2'],
  bandsRename: ['ls_blue', 'ls_green', 'ls_red', 'ls_nir', 'ls_swir1', 'ls_swir2'],
  imgProps: ['LANDSAT_ID', 'SATELLITE'],
  imgPropsRename: ['img_id', 'satellite'],
  datetimeName: 'date',
  datetimeFormat: 'YYYY-MM-dd'

// Extract zonal statistics per point per image.
var ptsLandsatStats = zonalStats(landsatCol, ptsLandsat, params);

The result is a feature collection with a feature for all combinations of plots and images.

Dealing with large collections

If your browser times out, try exporting the results. It's likely that point feature collections that cover a large area or contain many points (point-image observations) will need to be exported as a batch task by either exporting the final feature collection as an asset or as a CSV/Shapefile/GeoJSON to Google Drive or GCS.

Here is how you would export the above Landsat image-point feature collection to asset and Google Drive. Run the following code, activate the Code Editor Tasks tab, and then click the task 'Run' button.

  collection: your_feature_collection_goes_here,
  description: 'your_summary_table_name_here',
  assetId: 'path_to_your_summary_table_name_here'

  collection: your_feature_collection_goes_here,
  folder: 'your_gdrive_folder_name_here',
  description: 'your_summary_table_name_here',
  fileFormat: 'CSV'

Additional notes

Common reducers

Weighted vs unweighted region reduction

A region used for calculation of zonal statistics often bisects multiple pixels. Should partial pixels be included in zonal statistics? Earth Engine lets you decide by allowing you to define a reducer as either weighted or unweighted (or you can provide per-pixel weight specification as an image band). A weighted reducer will include partial pixels in statistic calculations by weighting each pixel's contribution according to the fraction of the area intersecting the region. An unweighted reducer, on the other hand, gives equal weight to all pixels whose cell center intersects the region; all other pixels are excluded from calculation of the statistic. For aggregate reducers like ee.Reducer.mean() and ee.Reducer.median(), the default mode is weighted, while identifier reducers such as ee.Reducer.min() and ee.Reducer.max() are unweighted. You can adjust the behavior of weighted reducers by calling unweighted() on them, as in ee.Reducer.mean().unweighted(). For more information, please see the Weighted Reductions guide page.

Copy properties to computed images

Derived computed images do not retain the properties of their source image, so be sure to copy properties to computed images if you want them included in the region reduction table. For instance, consider the simple computation of unscaling Landsat SR data:

// Define a Landsat image.
var img = ee.ImageCollection('LANDSAT/LC08/C01/T1_SR').first();

// Print its properties.

// Select the reflectance bands and unscale them.
var computedImg = img.select('B.*').divide(1e4);

// Print the unscaled image's properties.

Notice how the computed image does not have the source image's properties and only retains the bands information. To fix this, use the copyProperties function to add the source properties to the derived image.

// Select the reflectance bands and unscale them.
var computedImg = img.select('B.*').divide(1e4)
  .copyProperties(img, img.propertyNames());

// Print the unscaled image's properties.

Now all of the properties are included.

Use this technique when returning computed, derived images in a mapped function, and in single image operations.

Understanding which pixels are included in polygon statistics

If you want to visualize what pixels are included in a polygon for a region reducer, you can adapt the following code to use your own region(s) by replacing geometry and the elev dataset, along with desired scale and crs parameters. The important part to note is that the image data you are adding to the map is reprojected using the same scale and crs as that used in your region reduction.

// Add polygon geometry.
var geometry =
        [[[-118.6019835717645, 37.079867782687884],
          [-118.6019835717645, 37.07838698844939],
          [-118.60036351751951, 37.07838698844939],
          [-118.60036351751951, 37.079867782687884]]], null, false);

// Import the MERIT global elevation dataset.
var elev = ee.Image('MERIT/DEM/v1_0_3');
print('Projection, crs, and crs_transform:', elev.projection());
print('Scale in meters:', elev.projection().nominalScale());

A count reducer will return how many pixel centers are overlapped by the polygon region, which would be the number of pixels included in any unweighted reducer statistic. Be sure to specify CRS and scale for both the region reducer and the reprojected layer added to the map (see below for more details).

var result = elev.select(0).reduceRegion({
  reducer: ee.Reducer.count(),
  geometry: geometry,
  scale: 90,
  crs: 'EPSG:5070'

print('n pixels', result.get('dem'));

Map.addLayer(elev.reproject({crs: 'EPSG:5070', scale: 90}),
  {min: 2500, max: 3000, palette: ['blue', 'white', 'red']});
Map.addLayer(geometry, {color: 'white'});
Map.centerObject(geometry, 18);

Notes on CRS and scale:

  • Earth Engine runs reduceRegion using the projection of the image's first band if the CRS is unspecified in the function. For imagery spanning multiple UTM zones, for example, this would lead to different origins. For some functions EE uses the default EPSG:4326. Therefore, when the opportunity is presented, such as by the reduceRegion function, it is important to specify the scale and CRS explicitly.
  • The Map default CRS is EPSG:3857. When looking closely at pixels on the map, the data layer scale and CRS should also be set explicitly. Note that zooming out after setting a relatively small scale when reprojecting may result in memory and/or timeout errors because optimized pyramid layers for each zoom level will not be used.
  • Specifying the CRS and scale in both the reduceRegion and addLayer functions allow the map visualization to align with the information printed in the console.
  • The Earth Engine default, WGS 84 lat long (EPSG:4326), is a generic CRS that works worldwide. The code above reprojects to EPSG:5070, North American Equal Albers, which is a CRS that preserves area for North American locations. Use the CRS that is best for your use case when adapting this to your own project, or maintain (and specify) the CRS of the image using crs: img.projection().


🔗 Braaten, J. Landsat ETM+ to OLI Harmonization. Google Earth Engine Community Tutorials. 2019, Aug 29.

🔗 Cansler CA, McKenzie D. How robust are burn severity indices when applied in a new region? Evaluation of alternate field-based and remote-sensing methods. Remote Sensing. 2012;4(2):456–483. doi:10.3390/rs4020456

🔗 Miller JD, Thode AE. Quantifying burn severity in a heterogeneous landscape with a relative version of the delta Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR). Remote Sensing of Environment. 2007;109(1):66–80. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2006.12.006