This dissertation focuses on relating spaceborne microwave data to the geophysical characteristics of the Sahara desert and the Amazon vegetation. Radar and radiometric responses of the Saharan ergs are related to geophysical properties of sand formations and near surface winds. The spatial and temporal variability of the Amazon vegetation is studied using multi-frequency and multi-polarization data. The Sahara desert includes large expanses of sand dunes called ergs that are constantly reshaped by prevailing winds. Radar backscatter measurements observed at various incidence and azimuth angles from the NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT), the ERS scatterometer (ESCAT), the SeaWinds scatterometer aboard QuikScat (QSCAT), and the Precipitation Radar (TRMM-PR) aboard the Tropical Rain Monitoring Mission (TRMM) are used to model the backscatter response from sand dunes. Backscatter incidence and azimuth angle variation depends upon the slopes and orientations of the dune slopes. Sand dunes are modeled as a composite of tilted rough facets, which are characterized by a probability distribution of tilt. The small ripples are modeled as cosinusoidal surface waves that contribute to the return signal at Bragg angles. The backscatter response is high at look angles equal to the mean tilts of the rough facets and is lower elsewhere. The modeled backscatter response is similar to NSCAT and ESCAT observations. Backscatter also varies spatially and reflects the spatial inhomogeneity of the sand surface. A model incorporating the backscatter azimuth modulation and spatial inhomogeneity is proposed. The maxima of the azimuth modulation at 33 degrees incidence angle reflect the orientation of the slip-sides on the sand surface. These slip-side orientations are consistent with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts wind directions spatially and temporally. Radiometric emissions from the ergs have strong dependence on the surface geometry. The radiometric temperature (Tb) of ergs is modeled as the weighted sum of the Tb from all the composite tilted rough facets. The dual polarization Tb measurements at 19 GHz and 37 GHz from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) aboard the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Microwave Imager are used to analyze the radiometric response of erg surfaces and compared to the model results. It is found that longitudinal and transverse dune fields are differentiable based on their polarization difference azimuth modulation, which reflects type and orientation of dune facets. Polarization difference at 19 GHz and 37 GHz provide consistent results. In the Amazon, backscatter measurements from Seasat A scatterometer (SASS), ESCAT, NSCAT, QSCAT and TRMM-PR; and Tb measurements from SSM/I are used to study the multi-spectral microwave response of vegetation. Backscatter versus incidence angle signatures of data combined from scatterometers and the precipitation radar depend upon vegetation density. The multi-frequency signatures of backscatter and Tb provide unique responses for different vegetation densities. Backscatter and Tb spatial inhomogeneity is related to spatial geophysical characteristics. Temporal variability of the Amazon basin is studied using C-band ERS data and a Ku-band time series formed by SASS, NSCAT and QSCAT data. Although the central Amazon forest represents an area of very stable radar backscatter measurements, portions of the southern region exhibit backscatter changes over the past two decades.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Electrical and Computer Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





Sahara, Amazon, erg, sand, vegetation, scatterometer, radiometer, scattering, emission