New global forest/non-forest maps from ALOS PALSAR data (2007-2010)

Masanobu Shimada, Takuya Itoh, Takeshi Motooka, Manubu Watanabe, Tomonori Shiraishi, Rajesh Thapa, Richard Lucas

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465 Citations (SciVal)


Four global mosaics of Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS) Phased Arrayed L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) HH and HV polarization data were generated at 25 m spatial resolution using data acquired annually from 2007 to 2010. Variability in L-band HH and HV gamma-naught (γ0) for forests was observed between regions, with this attributed to differences in forest structure and vegetation/surface moisture conditions. Region-specific backscatter thresholds were therefore applied to produce from each annual mosaic, a global map of forest and non-forest cover from which maps of forest losses and gain were generated. The overall agreement with forest/non-forest assessments using the Degree Confluence Project, the Forest Resource Assessment and Google Earth images was 85%, 91% and 95% respectively. Using 2007 as a baseline, decreases of 0.040 and 0.028 dB (with a 0.006 dB 99% confidence level) were observed in the HH and HV γ0 respectively over the same areas suggesting a decrease in forest area and/or increased smoothing of the global surface at the L-band radar observation over the four-year period. The maps provide a new global resource for documenting the changing extent of forests and offer opportunities for quantifying historical and future dynamics through comparison with historical (1992–1998) Japanese Earth Resources Satellite (JERS-1) SAR and the forthcoming (from 2014) ALOS-2 PALSAR-2 data. Four year PALSAR mosaics and the forest/non-forest data, which were generated and analyzed in this paper, are opened to the public for free downloading albeit with coarser resolutions (WWW1). Future distribution of the higher (original) resolution datasets from PALSAR as well as the ALOS-2/PALSAR-2 is planned.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-31
Number of pages19
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date03 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • forest and non-forest
  • ALOS
  • radar backscatter
  • global SAR mosaic
  • ALOS-2
  • L-band SAR
  • segmentation
  • classification


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