Assessment of polarimetric SAR data for discrimination between wet versus dry soil moisture conditions

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Radarsat-2 imagery from extreme dry versus wet conditions are compared in an effort to determine the value of using polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data for improving estimation of fuel moisture in a chronosequence of Alaskan boreal black spruce ecosystems (recent burns, regenerating forests dominated by shrubs, open canopied forests, moderately dense forest cover). Results show strong distinction between wet and dry conditions for C-HH and C-LR polarized backscatter, and Freeman–Durden and van Zyl surface bounce decomposition parameters (35–65% change for all but the dense spruce site). These four SAR variables have high potential for evaluation of within site surface soil moisture, as well as for relative distinction between wet and dry conditions across sites for lower biomass and sparse canopy forested sites. However, for any given test site except the shrubby regrowth site, van Zyl volume, surface, and double bounce scattering all result in similar percentage increases from dry to wet soil condition. This indicates that for most of these test sites/cases moisture enhances the magnitude of the return for all scattering mechanisms evaluated. Thus, differences in scattering from the interaction of biomass, surface roughness, and moisture condition across sites remains an issue and backscatter due to surface roughness or biomass cannot be uniquely estimated. In contrast, the Cloude–Pottier C-band decomposition variables appear invariant to soil moisture, but may instead account for variations in ecosystem structure and biomass. Further investigation is needed, as results warrant future research focused on evaluation of multiple polarimetric parameters in algorithm development.

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© 2013 Taylor & Francis. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01431161.2013.796096

Publication Title

International Journal of Remote Sensing