Mapping of boreal forest biomass from spaceborne synthetic aperture radar


  • K. Jon Ranson,

  • Guoqing Sun,

  • Roger H. Lang,

  • Narinder S. Chauhan,

  • Randal J. Cacciola,

  • Ozlem Kilic


As part of the Boreal-Ecosystem Atmosphere Study (BOREAS), an investigation is being made of the use of satellite data including shuttle imaging radar-C (SIR-C), X-band synthetic aperture radar (XSAR), and Landsat-Thematic Mapper data for estimating total and component aboveground woody biomass in boreal forest study sites in Canada. The goal of this paper is to present progress in mapping above ground woody biomass over portions of the BOREAS southern study area using spaceborne sensor data. Relationships of backscatter to total biomass and total biomass to foliage, branch, and bole biomass are used to estimate biomass across the landscape. The procedure involves image classification with SAR and Landsat data and development of simple mapping techniques using combinations of SAR channels. The analysis uses measurements from forest stands representing a range of biomass and structures. Field measurements included plot level mensuration (species, stem diameter, height, density, and basal area) and tree geometry measurements (leaf, branch, bole size, and angle distributions). The results indicate that aboveground biomass can be estimated to within about 1.6 kg/m2 and up to about 15 kg/m2 across the SIR-C image evaluated. A general method produced equivalent results with those obtained by treating forest type (pine, spruce, and aspen) separately. The biomass mapping was extended to bole, branch, and foliage components from relationships with total aboveground biomass developed from detailed tree measurements. Average biomass within the imaged area was estimated to be about 7.3 kg/m2 with biomass components of bole, branch, and foliage comprising 83, 12, and 5% of the total. Examination of the scaling of biomass estimates from remote sensing images of varying resolution shows that information at scales useful for ecosystem models can be obtained. In addition, the biomass estimation technique provides similar information at different image resolutions.