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Mapping Tree Height in Burkina Faso Parklands with TanDEM-X

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Mapping of tree height is of great importance for management, planning, and research related to agroforestry parklands in Africa. In this paper, we investigate the potential of spotlight-mode data from the interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) satellite system TanDEM-X (TDM) for mapping of tree height in Saponé, Burkina Faso, a test site characterised by a low average canopy cover (~15%) and a mean tree height of 9.0 m. Seven TDM acquisitions from January–April 2018 are used jointly to create high-resolution (~3 m) maps of interferometric phase height and mean canopy elevation, the latter derived using a new, model-based processing approach compensating for some effects of the side-looking geometry of SAR. Compared with phase height, mean canopy elevation provides a more accurate representation of tree height variations, a better tree positioning accuracy, and better tree height estimation performance when assessed using 915 trees inventoried in situ and representing 15 different species/genera. We observe and discuss two bias effects, and we use empirical models to compensate for these effects. The best-performing model using only TDM data provides tree height estimates with a standard error (SE) of 2.8 m (31% of the average height) and a correlation coefficient of 75%. The estimation performance is further improved when TDM height data are combined with in situ measurements; this is a promising result in view of future synergies with other remote sensing techniques or ground measurement-supported monitoring of well-known trees.

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