Geophysical Research Letters

Detection of land degradation with polarimetric SAR



Land degradation is a crucial problem facing the human race. With an ever-increasing population placing increasing stress on agricultural lands, land impoverishment has the potential for adversely impacting the food supply in many regions of the world. The Manix Basin Area of the Mojave desert has been cropped using center pivot irrigation, but since 1973 many fields have been abandoned for economic reasons. Data were collected using the JPL Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AIRSAR), a multi-spectral radar polarimeter. Analysis of these data revealed unusual polarization responses which we attribute to the formation of wind ripples on the surfaces of fields which had been abandoned for more than 5 years. This conjecture was confirmed through field observations, and the observed polarization responses were effectively modelled using a second-order small perturbation model. These results demonstrate the usefulness of remote sensing techniques supported by limited field work for study of land degradation at synoptic scales.