Spatio-temporal and structural analysis of vegetation dynamics of Lowveld Savanna in South Africa

Savanna vegetation structure parameters are important for assessing the biomes status under various disturbance scenarios. Despite free availability remote sensing data, the use of optical remote sensing data for savanna vegetation structure mapping is limited by sparse and heterogeneous distribution of vegetation canopy. Cloud and aerosol contamination lead to inconsistency in the availability of time series data necessary for continuous vegetation monitoring, especially in the tropics. Long- and medium wavelength microwave data such as synthetic aperture radar (SAR), with their low sensitivity to clouds and atmospheric aerosols, and high temporal and spatial resolution solves these problems. Studies utilising remote sensing data for vegetation monitoring on the other hand, lack quality reference data. This study explores the potential of high-resolution TLS-derived vegetation structure variables as reference to multi-temporal SAR datasets in savanna vegetation monitoring. The overall objectives of this study are: (i) to evaluate the potential of high-resolution TLS-data in extraction of savanna vegetation structure variables; (ii) to estimate landscape-wide aboveground biomass (AGB) and assess changes over four years using multi-temporal L-band SAR within a Lowveld savanna in Kruger National Park; and (iii) to assess interactions between C-band SAR with various savanna vegetation structure variables. Field inventories and TLS campaign were carried out in the wet and dry seasons of 2015 respectively, and provided reference data upon which AGB, CC and cover classes were modelled. L-band SAR modelled AGB was used for change analysis over 4 years, while multitemporal C-band SAR data was used to assess backscatter response to seasonal changes in CC and AGB abundant classes and cover classes. From the AGB change analysis, on average 36 ha of the study area (91 ha) experienced a loss in AGB above 5 t/ha over 4 years. A high backscatter intensity is observed on high abundance AGB, CC classes and large trees as opposed to low CC and AGB abundance classes and small trees. There is high response to all structure variables, with C-band VV showing best polarization in savanna vegetation mapping. Moisture availability in the wet season increases backscatter response from both canopy and background classes.



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