Radar remote sensing of wind-driven land degradation processes in northeastern Patagonia

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Received for publication February 27, 2009. Wind-driven land degradation negatively impacts on rangeland production and infrastructure in the Valdes Peninsula, northeastern Patagonia. The Valdes Peninsula has the most noticeable dunefields of the Patagonian drylands. Wind erosion has been assessed at different scales in this region, but often with limited data. In general, terrain features caused by wind activity are better discriminated by active microwaves than by sensors operating in the visible and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This paper aims to analyze wind-driven land degradation processes that control the radar backscatter observed in different sources of radar imagery. We used subsets derived from SIR-C, ERS-1 and 2, ENVISAT ASAR, RADARSAT-1, and ALOS PALSAR data. The visibility of aeolian features on radar images is mostly a function of wavelength, polarization, and incidence angle. Stabilized sand deposits are clearly observed in radar images, with defined edges but also signals of ongoing wind erosion. One of the most conspicuous features corresponds to old track sand dunes, a mixture of active and inactive barchanoid ridges and parabolic dunes. This is a clear example of deactivation of migrating dunes under the influence of vegetation. The L-band data reveal details of these sand ridges, whereas the C-band data only allow detecting a few of the larger tracks. The results of this study enable us to make recommendations about the utility of some radar sensor configurations for wind-driven land degradation reconnaissance in mid-latitude regions.

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