First Airswot Ka-Band Radar Backscatter Returns over a Complex California Wetland

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Oliwia N Baney1, Laurence C Smith1, Lincoln H Pitcher1, Colin J Gleason1, Vena W Chu1, Mia M Bennett1, Tamlin Pavelsky2 and Gregory A. Sadowy3, (1)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (2)University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, United States, (3)NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
In anticipation of the launch of the NASA Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, this project was conducted around the Piute Ponds of Edwards Air Force Base within the Mojave Desert, California to characterize ground conditions simultaneously with two AirSWOT flights collected May 14th, 2014. Both SWOT and AirSWOT employ a Ka-band interferometer to map water surface elevations and extent, but the ability of Ka-band radar to discriminate shorelines and flooded vegetation is not well known. Presumed bright returns from moist soils surrounding surface water bodies have also been speculated to confound interpretation of SWOT/AirSWOT data. The Piute Ponds are a dynamic area of constantly changing water conditions, providing a convenient test site for field studies to assess open water, dry shorelines, vegetation edges, islands, flooded vegetation and soil moisture in conjunction with AirSWOT backscatter and visible/near-infrared camera imagery. Islands were characterized into dry islands and flooded vegetation stands including species such as bulrush (Scripus acutus) and tamarisk (Tammarix ramosissima). Results demonstrate that full water extent can be determined by near-range backscatter returns which are strong for both open water and flooded vegetation. Far-range backscatter returns over open water were unreliable for flooded extent. Comparing near-range and far-range backscatter results to the soil moisture transect shows correlation, however as soil moisture increases, discriminating between wet sediment and water becomes difficult. In sum, first results suggest near-return backscatter results prove most useful in distinguishing open water from non-water, with a strong correlation between soil moisture and backscatter returns.