Forest classification and impact of BIOMASS resolution on forest area and aboveground biomass estimation

Michael Schlund*, Klaus Scipal, Malcolm W.J. Davidson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently implementing the BIOMASS mission as 7th Earth Explorer satellite. BIOMASS will provide for the first time global forest aboveground biomass estimates based on P-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. This paper addresses an often overlooked element of the data processing chain required to ensure reliable and accurate forest biomass estimates: accurate identification of forest areas ahead of the inversion of radar data into forest biomass estimates.The use of the P-band data from BIOMASS itself for the classification into forest and non-forest landcover types is assessed in this paper. For airborne data in tropical, hemi-boreal and boreal forests we demonstrate that classification accuracies from 90 up to 97% can be achieved using radar backscatter and phase information. However, spaceborne data will have a lower resolution and higher noise level compared to airborne data and a higher probability of mixed pixels containing multiple land cover types.Therefore, airborne data was reduced to 50 m, 100 m and 200 m resolution. The analysis revealed that about 50–60% of the area within the resolution level must be covered by forest to classify a pixel with higher probability as forest compared to non-forest. This results in forest omission and commission leading to similar forest area estimation over all resolutions. However, the forest omission resulted in a biased underestimated biomass, which was not equaled by the forest commission. The results underline the necessity of a highly accurate pre-classification of SAR data for an accurate unbiased aboveground biomass estimation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • P-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR)
  • Forestry
  • Classification
  • Aboveground biomass
  • ITC-CV
  • n/a OA procedure


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