Advances in Earth Science ›› 2009, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (9): 963-972. doi: 10.11867/j.issn.1001-8166.2009.09.0963

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Overview of the Satellite Remote Sensing of Frozen Ground: Visible-thermal Infrared and Radar Sensor

Zhang Tingjun 1,2, Jin Rui 3, Gao Feng 4   

  1. 1.State key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Cold and Arid Regions Enviromental and Engineering Research Institute, CAS,Lanzhou  730000,China;
    2.National Snow and Ice Data Center, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder  80303-0449, USA;
    3.Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou  730000, China; 4.Lanzhou Branch of the National Science Library, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou  730000, China
  • Received:2009-05-27 Revised:2009-08-10 Online:2009-09-10 Published:2009-09-10

Zhang Tingjun, Jin Rui, Gao Feng. Overview of the Satellite Remote Sensing of Frozen Ground: Visible-thermal Infrared and Radar Sensor[J]. Advances in Earth Science, 2009, 24(9): 963-972.

Permafrost and seasonally frozen ground regions occupy approximately 24% and 55%, respectively, of the exposed land surface in the Northern Hemisphere. The areal extent, timing, duration, and depth of the near-surface freeze/thaw soil have a significant impact on the plant growth, energy, water and trace gas exchanges between the atmosphere and the soils in cold seasons and cold regions. Satellite remote sensing combined with ground “truth” measurements have been used to investigate seasonally frozen ground and permafrost at local to regional scales with some successes. The objective of this paper is to provide an overview of satellite remote sensing techniques applied to study seasonally frozen ground and permafrost over the last few decades. Remote sensing of permafrost terrain and surface freeze/thaw cycles typically uses a combination of data in optical-thermal wave-lengths, passive microwave sensing, and active microwave remote sensing (including the scatterometer and Synthetic Aperture Radar). Any single sensor is not capable of providing the range of observations needed. SAR imaging provides information on the timing, duration, and regional progression of the near-surface soil freeze/thaw status in cold seasons/regions with a relatively high spatial resolution, but the revisiting period of existing satellites are relatively longer compared to the soil freeze/thaw cycle in fall and spring. Spaceborne passive microwave sensors offer more frequent coverage at several wavelengths, but with substantially lower spatial resolution. The optical-thermal sensors provide a compromise in spatial resolution and temporal sampling between SAR and passive microwave satellites, but a prior relationship between permafrost (and freeze/thaw depth) and corresponding environmental factors needs to be provided. Overall, microwave remote sensing is a promising technique to detect the near-surface soil freeze/thaw cycles over snow-free land. The potential of using land surface temperature derived from the thermal-infrared sensors to study soil freezing and thawing processes is marked. Satellite remote sensing data products, such as snow cover extent, snow depth, snowmelt, land surface type, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), surface albedo and soil moisture, can be very helpful for the frozen ground researches at local, regional, and global scales.

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