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Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Classification of Earth terrain using polarimetric synthetic aperture radar images


  • H. H. Lim,

  • A. A. Swartz,

  • H. A. Yueh,

  • J. A. Kong,

  • R. T. Shin,

  • J. J. van Zyl


Supervised and unsupervised classification procedures are developed and applied to synthetic aperture radar (SAR) polarimetric images in order to identify their various Earth terrain components. For supervised classification processing, the Bayes technique is used to classify fully polarimetric and normalized polarimetric SAR data. Simpler polarimetric discriminates, such as the absolute and normalized magnitude response of the individual receiver channel returns, in addition to the phase difference between the receiver channels, are also considered. Another processing algorithm, based on comparing general properties of the Stokes parameters of the scattered wave to that of simple scattering models, is also discussed. This algorithm, which is an unsupervised technique, classifies terrain elements based on the relationship between the orientation angle and handedness of the transmitting and receiving polarization states. These classification procedures have been applied to San Francisco Bay and Traverse City SAR images, supplied by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is shown that supervised classification yields the best overall performance when accurate classifier training data are used, whereas unsupervised classification is applicable when training data are not available.

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