Skip to main content

Detecting emergence, growth, and senescence of wetland vegetation with polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data

December 31, 2013

Wetlands provide ecosystem goods and services vitally important to humans. Land managers and policymakers working to conserve wetlands require regularly updated information on the statuses of wetlands across the landscape. However, wetlands are challenging to map remotely with high accuracy and consistency. We investigated the use of multitemporal polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data acquired with Canada’s Radarsat-2 system to track within-season changes in wetland vegetation and surface water. We speculated, a priori, how temporal and morphological traits of different types of wetland vegetation should respond over a growing season with respect to four energy-scattering mechanisms. We used ground-based monitoring data and other ancillary information to assess the limits and consistency of the SAR data for tracking seasonal changes in wetlands. We found the traits of different types of vertical emergent wetland vegetation were detected well with the SAR data and corresponded with our anticipated backscatter responses. We also found using data from Landsat’s optical/infrared sensors in conjunction with SAR data helped remove confusion of wetland features with upland grasslands. These results suggest SAR data can provide useful monitoring information on the statuses of wetlands over time.