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Title: Spatial and temporal statistics of SAR and InSAR observations for providing indicators of tropical forest structural changes due to forest disturbance
Author: De Grandi, Elsa Carla
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 1458
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2017
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Tropical forests are extremely important ecosystems which play a substantial role in the global carbon budget and are increasingly dominated by anthropogenic disturbance through deforestation and forest degradation, contributing to emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. There is an urgent need for forest monitoring over extensive and inaccessible tropical forest which can be best accomplished using spaceborne satellite data. Currently, two key processes are extremely challenging to monitor: forest degradation and post-disturbance re-growth. The thesis work focuses on these key processes by considering change indicators derived from radar remote sensing signal that arise from changes in forest structure. The problem is tackled by exploiting spaceborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Interferometric SAR (InSAR) observations, which can provide forest structural information while simultaneously being able to collect data independently of cloud cover, haze and daylight conditions which is a great advantage over the tropics. The main principle of the work is that a connection can be established between the forest structure distribution in space and signal variation (spatial statistics) within backscatter and Digital Surface Models (DSMs) provided by SAR. In turn, forest structure spatial characteristics and changes are used to map forest condition (intact or degraded) or disturbance. The innovative approach focuses on looking for textural patterns (and their changes) in radar observations, then connecting these patterns to the forest state through supporting evidence from expert knowledge and auxiliary remote sensing observations (e.g. high resolution optical, aerial photography or LiDAR). These patterns are descriptors of the forest structural characteristics in a statistical sense, but are not estimates of physical properties, such as above-ground biomass or canopy height. The thesis tests and develops methods using novel remote sensing technology (e.g. single-pass spaceborne InSAR) and modern image statistical analysis methods (wavelet-based space-scale analysis). The work is developed on an experimental basis and articulated in three test cases, each addressing a particular observational setting, analytical method and thematic context. The first paper deals with textural backscatter patterns (C-band ENVISAT ASAR and L-band ALOS PALSAR) in semi-deciduous closed forest in Cameroon. Analysis concludes that intact forest and degraded forest (arising from selective logging) are significantly different based on canopy structural properties when measured by wavelet based space-scale analysis. In this case, C-band data are more effective than longer wavelength L-band data. Such a result could be explained by the lower wave penetration into the forest volume at shorter wavelength, with the mechanism driving the differences between the two forest states arising from upper canopy heterogeneity. In the second paper, wavelet based space-scale analysis is also used to provide information on upper canopy structure. A DSM derived from TanDEM-X acquired in 2014 was used to discriminate primary lowland Dipterocarp forest, secondary forest, mixed-scrub and grassland in the Sungai Wain Protection Forest (East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo) which was affected by the 1997/1998 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The Jeffries- Matusita separability of wavelet spectral measures of InSAR DSMs between primary and secondary forest was in some cases comparable to results achieved by high resolution LiDAR data. The third test case introduces a temporal component, with change detection aimed at detecting forest structure changes provided by differencing TanDEM-X DSMs acquired at two dates separated by one year (2012-2013) in the Republic of Congo. The method enables cancelling out the component due to terrain elevation which is constant between the two dates, and therefore the signal related to the forest structure change is provided. Object-based change detection successfully mapped a gradient of forest volume loss (deforestation/forest degradation) and forest volume gain (post-disturbance re-growth). Results indicate that the combination of InSAR observations and wavelet based space-scale analysis is the most promising way to measure differences in forest structure arising from forest fires. Equally, the process of forest degradation due to shifting cultivation and post-disturbance re-growth can be best detected using multiple InSAR observations. From the experiments conducted, single-pass InSAR appears to be the most promising remote sensing technology to detect forest structure changes, as it provides three-dimensional information and with no temporal decorrelation. This type of information is not available in optical remote sensing and only partially available (through a 2D mapping) in SAR backscatter. It is advised that future research or operational endeavours aimed at mapping and monitoring forest degradation/regrowth should take advantage of the only currently available high resolution spaceborne single-pass InSAR mission (TanDEM-X). Moreover, the results contribute to increase knowledge related to the role of SAR and InSAR for monitoring degraded forest and tracking the process of forest degradation which is a priority but still highly challenging to detect. In the future the techniques developed in the thesis work could be used to some extent to support REDD+ initiatives.
Supervisor: Mitchard, Edward ; Woodhouse, Iain Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: synthetic aperture radar ; spatial statistics ; forest degradation ; tropical forest