A novel approach for the characterization of tundra wetland regions with C-band SAR satellite data

Int J Remote Sens. 2015 Nov 17;36(22):5537-5556. doi: 10.1080/01431161.2015.1101505. Epub 2015 Nov 16.


A circumpolar representative and consistent wetland map is required for a range of applications ranging from upscaling of carbon fluxes and pools to climate modelling and wildlife habitat assessment. Currently available data sets lack sufficient accuracy and/or thematic detail in many regions of the Arctic. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data from satellites have already been shown to be suitable for wetland mapping. Envisat Advanced SAR (ASAR) provides global medium-resolution data which are examined with particular focus on spatial wetness patterns in this study. It was found that winter minimum backscatter values as well as their differences to summer minimum values reflect vegetation physiognomy units of certain wetness regimes. Low winter backscatter values are mostly found in areas vegetated by plant communities typically for wet regions in the tundra biome, due to low roughness and low volume scattering caused by the predominant vegetation. Summer to winter difference backscatter values, which in contrast to the winter values depend almost solely on soil moisture content, show expected higher values for wet regions. While the approach using difference values would seem more reasonable in order to delineate wetness patterns considering its direct link to soil moisture, it was found that a classification of winter minimum backscatter values is more applicable in tundra regions due to its better separability into wetness classes. Previous approaches for wetland detection have investigated the impact of liquid water in the soil on backscatter conditions. In this study the absence of liquid water is utilized. Owing to a lack of comparable regional to circumpolar data with respect to thematic detail, a potential wetland map cannot directly be validated; however, one might claim the validity of such a product by comparison with vegetation maps, which hold some information on the wetness status of certain classes. It was shown that the Envisat ASAR-derived classes are related to wetland classes of conventional vegetation maps, indicating its applicability; 30% of the land area north of the treeline was identified as wetland while conventional maps recorded 1-7%.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Austrian Science Fund under Grant [I 1401] (Joint Russian–Austrian project COLD-Yamal) and the PAGE21 project, grant agreement number [282700], funded by the EC Seventh Framework Programme theme FP7-ENV-2011.