Landsat Thematic Mapper and Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre (SPOT) satellite based optical sensors, NASA Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle synthetic aperture radar (UAVSAR) polarimetric SAR (PolSAR), and field data captured the occurrence and the recovery of an undetected dieback that occurred between the summers of 2010, 2011, and 2012 in the Spartina alterniflora marshes of coastal Louisiana. Field measurements recorded the dramatic biomass decrease from 2010 to 2011 and a biomass recovery in 2012 dominated by a decrease of live biomass, and the loss of marsh as part of the dieback event. Based on an established relationship, the near-infrared/red vegetation index (VI) and site-specific measurements delineated a contiguous expanse of marsh dieback encompassing 6649.9 ha of 18,292.3 ha of S. alterniflora marshes within the study region. PolSAR data were transformed to variables used in biophysical mapping, and of this variable suite, the cross-polarization HV (horizontal send and vertical receive) backscatter was the best single indicator of marsh dieback and recovery. HV backscatter exhibited substantial and significant changes over the dieback and recovery period, tracked measured biomass changes, and significantly correlated with the live/dead biomass ratio. Within the context of regional trends, both HV and VI indicators started higher in pre-dieback marshes and exhibited substantially and statistically higher variability from year to year than that exhibited in the non-dieback marshes. That distinct difference allowed the capturing of the S. alterniflora marsh dieback and recovery; however, these changes were incorporated in a regional trend exhibiting similar but more subtle biomass composition changes.
Additional publication details
Marsh dieback, loss, and recovery mapped with satellite optical, airborne polarimetric radar, and field data