EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Multiband (X, C, L) radar amplitude analysis for a mixed sand- and gravel-bed river in the eastern central Andes

Benjamin Purinton and Bodo Bookhagen
Benjamin Purinton and Bodo Bookhagen
  • University of Potsdam, Institute for Geosciences, Potsdam-Golm, Germany (

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) amplitude measurements from spaceborne sensors are sensitive to surface roughness conditions near their radar wavelength. These data can be exploited to measure gravel-to-sand transitions and downstream gradients in grain size related to geomorphic setting in tectonically active high mountain environments at large spatial scales. The bedload of mixed sand- and gravel-bed rivers can be considered mixed smooth (compacted sand) and rough (gravel) surfaces. Here, we assess backscatter gradients over a large high-mountain alluvial river with aerially exposed sand and gravel bedload using X-band TerraSAR-X/TanDEM-X, C-band Sentinel-1, and L-band ALOS-2 PALSAR-2 radar scenes. In a first step, we compare backscatter response over vegetation-free endmember surfaces within the dry channel bed to assess expected responses and limitations of SAR roughness measurements. We then develop methods to extract smoothed backscatter gradients downstream along the channel using kernel density estimates. In a final step, the presence of sand and gravel bars is analyzed using Fourier frequency analysis, by fitting stretched exponential and power-law models to the power spectrum. We find a large range in backscatter depending on the heterogeneity of contiguous smooth- and rough-patches of bedload material. The SAR signal responds primarily to the fraction of smooth-sand bedload, but is further modified by gravel elements. The sensitivity to gravel is more apparent in longer wavelength (L-band) radar. Because the spatial extent of smooth sand bars is typically < 50 m, only higher resolution sensors (e.g., TerraSAR-X/TanDEM-X) are useful for power spectrum analysis. Our results show the potential for mapping sand-gravel transitions and local geomorphic complexity using SAR amplitude at the scale of large high mountain catchments with aerially exposed bedload.

How to cite: Purinton, B. and Bookhagen, B.: Multiband (X, C, L) radar amplitude analysis for a mixed sand- and gravel-bed river in the eastern central Andes, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-3943,, 2020


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