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The Importance of Soil Moisture and Soil Structure for InSAR Phase and Backscatter, as Determined by FDTD Modeling

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3 Author(s)
Bernhard Rabus ; MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., Richmond, Canada ; Hans Wehn ; Matt Nolan

In this paper, we introduce a finite-difference time-domain simulator that accurately models the interaction of microwaves with realistic soils, specifically from spaceborne interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). The modeled soils are characterized by surface roughness, correlation length, bulk moisture content, vertical moisture gradient, and small air-filled-void content. Simulation results include both backscatter and interferometric phase, and we are particularly interested in assessing the potential of the latter as a proxy for soil moisture. We find that differences in homogeneous bulk moisture result in only small phase differences (< 5?). In contrast, combinations of vertical moisture gradients and small air-filled voids, which may typically exist in more realistic soils, can produce phase changes > 30? for HH and > 50? for VV when the soil moisture is varied from 3% to 30% in the uppermost 2 cm of the soil. Phase changes of this magnitude are easily detectable by spaceborne InSAR techniques. While a strong phase response to a change in mean bulk moisture is common to vertical moisture gradient and small air-filled-void cases, their corresponding backscatter responses are very different. A vertical moisture gradient makes the backscatter response dramatically flatter compared with the case of uniform moisture; in contrast, the introduction of air-filled voids barely alters the backscatter. Thus, it may be possible to infer near-surface soil-structure parameters such as vertical gradients or fractions of voids and inhomogeneities from combined SAR phase and backscatter data. Future SAR sensors could be optimized for this purpose. Prior theoretical work based on the assumption of vertically uniform soil-moisture distributions may need to be adjusted, and the lack of a theory that accommodates more complex soil structures may explain why backscatter inversions have yet to result in a viable operational system.

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing  (Volume:48 ,  Issue: 5 )