This paper addresses the important yet unresolved problem of estimating forest properties from polarimetric-interferometric radar images affected by temporal decorrelation. We approach the problem by formulating a physical model of the polarimetric-interferometric coherence that incorporates both volumetric and temporal decorrelation effects. The model is termed random-motion-over-ground (RMoG) model, as it combines the random-volume-over-ground (RVoG) model with a Gaussian-statistic motion model of the canopy elements. Key features of the RMoG model are: 1) temporal decorrelation depends on the vertical structure of forests; 2) volumetric and temporal coherences are not separable as simple multiplicative factors; and 3) temporal decorrelation is complex-valued and changes with wave polarization. This third feature is particularly important as it allows compensating for unknown levels of temporal decorrelation using multiple polarimetric channels.
To estimate model parameters such as tree height and canopy motion, we propose an algorithm that minimizes the least square distance between model predictions and complex coherence observations. The algorithm was applied to L-band NASA’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar data acquired over the Harvard Forest (Massachussetts, USA). We found that the RMS difference at stand level between estimated RMoG-model tree height and NASA’s lidar Laser Vegetation and Ice Sensor tree height was within 12% of the lidar-derived height, which improved significantly the RMS difference of 37% obtained using the RVoG model and ignoring temporal decorrelation. This result contributes to our ability of estimating forest biomass using in-orbit and forthcoming polarimetric-interferometric radar missions.