Mapping forest successional stages in the Brazilian Amazon using forest heights derived from TanDEM-X SAR interferometry

Polyanna Da Conceição Bispo*, Matteo Pardini, Konstantinos P. Papathanassiou, Florian Kugler, H. Balzter, Dominik Rains, João Roberto dos Santos, Igor G. Rizaev, K. Tansey, Maiza Nara dos Santos, Luciana Spinelli Araujo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
235 Downloads (Pure)


Knowledge of the spatial patterns of successional stages (i.e., primary and secondary forest) in tropical forests allows to monitor forest preservation, mortality and regeneration in relation to natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Different successional stages have also different capabilities of re-establishing carbon stocks. Therefore, a successful discrimination of successional stages over wide areas can lead to an improved quantification of above ground biomass and carbon stocks. The reduction of the mapping uncertainties is especially a challenge due to high heterogeneity of the tropical vegetation. In this framework, the development of innovative remote sensing approaches is required. Forests (top) height (and its spatial distribution) are an important structural parameter that can be used to differentiate between different successional stages, and can be provided by Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) acquisitions. In this context, this paper investigates the potential of forest heights estimated from TanDEM-X InSAR data and a LiDAR digital terrain model (DTM) for separating successional stages (primary or old growth and secondary forest at different stages of succession) by means of a maximum likelihood classification. The study was carried out in the region of the Tapajós National Forest (Pará, Brazil) in the Amazon biome. The forest heights for three years (2012, 2013 and 2016) were estimated from a single-polarization in bistatic mode using InSAR model-based inversion techniques aided by the LiDAR digital terrain model. The validation of the TanDEM-X forest heights with independent LiDAR H100 datasets was carried out in the location of seven field inventory plots (measuring 50 × 50 m, equivalent to 0.25 ha), also allowing for the validation of the LiDAR datasets against the field data. The validation of the estimated heights showed a high correlation (r = 0.93) and a low uncertainty (RMSE = 3 m). The information about the successional stages and forest heights from field datasets was used to select training samples in the LiDAR and TanDEM-X forest heights to classify successional stages with a maximum likelihood classifier. The identification of different stages of forest succession based on TanDEM-X forest heights was possible with an overall accuracy of about 80%.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111194
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date31 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Forest height
  • Interferometry
  • Successional stages
  • Synthetic Aperture Radar
  • TanDEM-X
  • Tropical forests


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