AIRSAR studies of woody shrub density in semiarid rangeland: Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico

TitleAIRSAR studies of woody shrub density in semiarid rangeland: Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsH. Musick B, Schaber GG, Breed CS
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Date Published1998
Accession NumberJRN00252
Call Number00701
Keywordsarticle, articles, journal, journals, remote sensing, AIRSAR, shrub encroachment

This study evaluates the use of polarimetric Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AIRSAR) data to assess woody shrub density in a semiarid site where the vegetation consists primarily of varied mixtures of herbaceous vegetation and shrubs. AIRSAR data and field observations of vegetation cover and growth form-composition were obtained for 59 sites in the Jornada del Muerto plain in southern New Mexico. Radar signature measures examined were C-, L- and P-band backscattering coefficients (s) for HH, HV and VV polarizations, rations of sHH and sHV to sVV, and the HH-VV polarization phase difference and correlation coefficient. The most effective measure for estimation of shrub density was L-band sHV, which distinguished among shrub density classes with no misclassification. Sensitivity of this measure to small amounts of shrub cover was indicated by successful separation of sites with <1% shrub cover from sites with 1-5% cover. Separability of shrub density classes was generally least for C-band signature measures. A distinctive radar signature was exhibited by dense stands of Yucca elata, a semitreelike plant with uniformly thick (»10 cm diameter) fibrous stems. Yucca sites were distinguished from others by their high P-band sHV relative to L-band sHV. The results are largely explained by the greater sensitivity of longer wavelengths to larger canopy structural elements. L-band sHV and other measures responsive to canopy volume scattering were more strongly related to shrub than to herbaceous plant cover because woody shrub canopies have numerous stems of the intermediate size to which L-band is most sensitive, whereas stems of this size are mostly lacking in herbaceous canopies. The uniform-diameter stems of yucca have larger dimensions to which P-band is more sensitive than L-band. ©Elsevier Science Inc., 1998