Articles | Volume 15, issue 14
Research article
30 Jul 2018
Research article |  | 30 Jul 2018

An evaluation of SMOS L-band vegetation optical depth (L-VOD) data sets: high sensitivity of L-VOD to above-ground biomass in Africa

Nemesio J. Rodríguez-Fernández, Arnaud Mialon, Stephane Mermoz, Alexandre Bouvet, Philippe Richaume, Ahmad Al Bitar, Amen Al-Yaari, Martin Brandt, Thomas Kaminski, Thuy Le Toan, Yann H. Kerr, and Jean-Pierre Wigneron

Abstract. The vegetation optical depth (VOD) measured at microwave frequencies is related to the vegetation water content and provides information complementary to visible/infrared vegetation indices. This study is devoted to the characterization of a new VOD data set obtained from SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) satellite observations at L-band (1.4 GHz). Three different SMOS L-band VOD (L-VOD) data sets (SMOS level 2, level 3 and SMOS-IC) were compared with data sets on tree height, visible/infrared indexes (NDVI, EVI), mean annual precipitation and above-ground biomass (AGB) for the African continent. For all relationships, SMOS-IC showed the lowest dispersion and highest correlation. Overall, we found a strong (R > 0.85) correlation with no clear sign of saturation between L-VOD and four AGB data sets. The relationships between L-VOD and the AGB data sets were linear per land cover class but with a changing slope depending on the class type, which makes it a global non-linear relationship. In contrast, the relationship linking L-VOD to tree height (R = 0.87) was close to linear. For vegetation classes other than evergreen broadleaf forest, the annual mean of L-VOD spans a range from 0 to 0.7 and it is linearly correlated with the average annual precipitation. SMOS L-VOD showed higher sensitivity to AGB compared to NDVI and K/X/C-VOD (VOD measured at 19, 10.7 and 6.9 GHz). The results showed that, although the spatial resolution of L-VOD is coarse ( ∼ 40 km), the high temporal frequency and sensitivity to AGB makes SMOS L-VOD a very promising indicator for large-scale monitoring of the vegetation status, in particular biomass.

Short summary
Existing global scale above-ground biomass (AGB) maps are made at very high spatial resolution collecting data during several years. In this paper we discuss the use of a new data set from the SMOS satellite: the vegetation optical depth estimated from low microwave frequencies. It is shown that this new data set is highly sensitive to AGB. The spacial resolution of SMOS is coarse (40 km) but the new data set can be used to monitor AGB variations with time due to its high revisit frequency.
Final-revised paper