Vegetation characteristics and underlying topography from interferometric radar


  • Robert N. Treuhaft,

  • Søren N. Madsen,

  • Mahta Moghaddam,

  • Jakob J. van Zyl


This paper formulates and demonstrates methods for extracting vegetation characteristics and underlying ground surface topography from interferometric synthetic aperture radar (INSAR) data. The electromagnetic scattering and radar processing, which produce the INSAR observations, are modeled, vegetation and topographic parameters are identified for estimation, the parameter errors are assessed in terms of INSAR instrumental performance, and the parameter estimation is demonstrated on INSAR data and compared to ground truth. The fundamental observations from which vegetation and surface topographic parameters are estimated are (1) the cross-correlation amplitude, (2) the cross-correlation phase, and (3) the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) backscattered power. A calculation based on scattering from vegetation treated as a random medium, including the effects of refractivity and absorption in the vegetation, yields expressions for the complex cross correlation and backscattered power in terms of vegetation characteristics. These expressions lead to the identification of a minimal set of four parameters describing the vegetation and surface topography: (1) the vegetation layer depth, (2) the vegetation extinction coefficient (power loss per unit length), (3) a parameter involving the product of the average backscattering amplitude and scatterer number density, and (4) the height of the underlying ground surface. The accuracy of vegetation and ground surface parameters, as a function of INSAR observation accuracy, is evaluated for aircraft INSAR, which is characterized by a 2.5-m baseline, an altitude of about 8 km, and a wavelength of 5.6 cm. It is found that for ≈0.5% accuracy in the INSAR normalized cross-correlation amplitude and ≈5° accuracy in the interferometric phase, few-meter vegetation layer depths and ground surface heights can be determined from INSAR for many types of vegetation layers. With the same observational accuracies, extinction coefficients can be estimated at the 0.1-dB/m level. Because the number of parameters exceeds the number of observations for current INSAR data sets, external extinction coefficient data are used to demonstrate the estimation of the vegetation layer depth and ground surface height from INSAR data taken at the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest in Alaska. This demonstration shows approximately 5-m average ground truth agreement for vegetation layer depths and ground-surface heights, with a clear dependence of error on stand height. These errors suggest refinements in INSAR data acquisition and analysis techniques which will potentially yield few-meter accuracies. The information in the INSAR parameters is applicable to a variety of ecological modeling issues including the successional modeling of forested ecosystems.