This study presents a method and application results of mapping different halophytes over tidal flats and salt marshes using high resolution space-borne X-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that has been rarely used for salt marsh mapping. Halophytes in a salt marshes are sensitive to sea-level changes, sedimentation, and anthropogenic modifications. The alteration of the demarcations among halophyte species is an indicator of sea level and environmental changes within a salt marsh. The boundary of an herbaceous halophyte patch is, however, difficult to determine using remotely sensed data because of its sparseness. We examined the ecological status of the halophytes and their distribution changes using TerraSAR-X and optical data. We also determined the optimum season for halophyte mapping. An annual plant, Suaeda japonica (S. japonica), and a typical perennial salt marsh grass, Phragmites australis (P. australis), were selected for halophyte analysis. S. japonica is particularly sensitive to sea level fluctuation. Seasonal variation for the annual plant was more significant (1.47 dB standard deviation) than that for the perennial grass, with a pattern of lower backscattering in winter and a peak in the summer. The border between S. japonica and P. australis was successfully determined based on the distinctive X-band radar backscattering features. Winter is the best season to distinguish between the two different species, while summer is ideal for analyzing the distribution changes of annual plants in salt marshes. For a single polarization, we recommend using HH polarization, because it produces maximum backscattering on tidal flats and salt marshes. Our results show that high resolution SAR, such as TerraSAR-X and Cosmo-SkyMed, is an effective tool for mapping halophyte species in tidal flats and monitoring their seasonal variations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Aquatic Science