An advanced radar technique to image forests in three dimensions has undergone an ESA-backed test campaign in Indonesia. A future space-based version could measure global biomass to sharpen the accuracy of climate change models.
The campaign, called the Second Indonesian Airborne Radar Experiment (INDREX-II), involved flying a test instrument called the Experimental Synthetic Aperture Radar (E-SAR), built by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), in a Dornier-228 aircraft over eight test sites around Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.
The sites varied in character from pristine rainforest to coastal mangroves and oil palm and rubber plantations. They were also measured in detail on the ground to provide ground truth for the radar results, around 200 Gigabytes of raw data having been gathered during three weeks of flights. "We had already carried out tests in European forests," explained INDREX-II team member Dirk Hoekman of the University of Wageningen. "We were able to extract the difference between the tree canopy and the forest floor – and from knowing tree height, we can use specially-developed algorithms to estimate forest biomass with a reasonable degree of certainty. "What we needed to know was if the same was true of much denser tropical forests. So with ESAs support and the co-operation of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry we carried out this aerial survey over test sites that were also measured from the ground, in order to gather a sizeable tropical radar database. There is still a lot of analysis to be done, but early findings look promising."
Mariangela D’Acunto | alfa
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