An evaluation of satellite synthetic aperture radar for vernal pool detection

Document Type

Conference Paper/Presentation

Publication Date



Vernal pools are small, temporary bodies of water that form in shallow depressions within forested areas. Vernal pools are important to the biodiversity and health of the Great Lakes region's forests as they provide habitat for a number of wildlife species, including threatened amphibians and invertebrates, and contribute other ecosystem services including nutrient cycling, water storage and infiltration, and groundwater recharge. Vernal pools can be difficult to identify because of their seasonality and small size and have received little protection under federal and state wetland regulations. As a result, many of these small, temporary wetlands have been lost or degraded. The detection and mapping of vernal pools is hindered by forest canopy cover, limiting the utility of optical imagery. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors have low frequencies which are capable of penetrating forest canopy to detect the presence of standing water on the ground. L-band and C-band SAR data were evaluated in three study areas in Michigan to determine their effectiveness to identify vernal pools. When combined with digital elevation models, seasonally appropriate SAR data were found to be a cost-efficient and accurate means of vernal pool detection.

Publisher's Statement

© 2015 The authors.

Publication Title

IAGLR 58th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research