Relating P-band synthetic aperture radar tomography to tropical forest biomass

  • Ho Tong Minh D
  • Le Toan T
  • Rocca F
 et al. 
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The retrieval of above-ground biomass (AGB) in dense tropical forests using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images is widely recognized as a challenging task. The first difficulty arises from the decrease of sensitivity of the backscattered intensity to biomass at high biomass values, often referred to as the backscatter saturation effect. At P-band, the decrease of sensitivity can occur at biomass values higher than about 300 t ha-1, e.g., those of many dense tropical forests. Another limiting factor is associated with the ground effects, as they can change significantly the magnitude of returns from vegetation-ground interactions. As a consequence, terrain topography or ground moisture status can determine the variations of the observed signal that are not due to forest biomass. A solution to reduce the ground effects is to have access to layers inside the forest canopy where the backscatter from vegetation-ground interactions is not significant. The study presented in this paper is an attempt to overcome the issues outlined above based on direct 3-D imaging of the forest volume, which is possible through multibaseline SAR tomography. In this way, forest biomass can be investigated by considering not only the backscattered power at each slant range and azimuth location but also its vertical distribution. The data analyzed in this paper are from the P-band airborne dataset acquired by Office National d'Études et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA) over French Guiana in 2009, in the frame of the European Space Agency campaign TropiSAR. The dataset is characterized by a favorable baseline distribution, resulting in a vertical resolution less than half the forest height, which made it possible to decompose the vertical distribution of the backscattered power into a number of layers by coherent focusing, i.e., without assuming any prior knowledge about the forest vertical structure. For each layer, the relationship between the backscattere- power and forest AGB was then analyzed. As expected, it was found that the power from the bottom layer is very weakly correlated to AGB, whereas the power from a layer at about 30 m above the ground yields the best correlation and sensitivity to AGB in all polarizations, for actual AGB values ranging from 250 to 450 t ha-1. An interpretation of this result is also provided, based on a forest growth model simulation. Finally, the relevance of tomographic technique in P-band spaceborne mission is discussed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • BIOMASS mission
  • Forest vertical structure
  • P-band
  • Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) tomography
  • Tomographic phase
  • Tropical forest biomass

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