Abstract The northern Sinai is a sandy semi-desert. Severe overgrazing and other anthropogenic pressures contribute to an extremely sparse vegetative cover. A 6×6 km area was fenced off in the summer of 1974, constituting an exclosure from the grazing herds and from harvesting of plants for firewood. The vegetation in this exclosure recovered rapidly. In this study, radiances and surface temperatures of the vegetated exclosure and of the surrounding anthropogenically impacted terrain were monitored for the period March–September 1981, using NOAA-6 satellite. This satellite carries the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) that measures visible and solar infrared radiances and also radiation temperatures at 11 μm band. In the digital images, the exclosure forms an easily recognized square, darker in the visible and solar infrared AVHRR channels than the surroundings. We concentrated on the corner in which there was no anthropogenic activity. Based on the ratio of the radiance over the exclosure to that over the surrounding terrain, the protrusions parameter s (vertical projection of the protrusions per unit area) has been estimated. The average value of s for the various satellite passes is 0.20 as measured in the visible channel and 0.18 as measured in the solar infrared. The radiation temperatures of the exclosure and of the surrounding terrain were analyzed. The radiation temperatures of the vegetated exclosure (sand with protruding bushes) are higher (by up to 2.5°K) than those of the surrounding terrain (that can be approximately regarded as bare sand). It is concluded that in an arid climate, under the semi-dormant conditions of vegetation (which prevail at all times except for the desert-bloom period, after a rain) the evapotranspiration is low, so that its effect on the surface temperatures is very small. Under these conditions, the surface temperatures are controlled by the surface albedo and the air flow at the surface.