Polarimetric SAR analysis of tsunami damage following the March 11, 2011 east Japan earthquake

Motoyuki Sato, Si Wei Chen, Makoto Satake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 killed more than 15000 people in Eastern Japan. The importance of remote sensing in understanding the damage caused by natural disasters is quite significant, and many data sets were acquired after the events. In this paper, we demonstrate the importance and the potential of full polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images for damage assessment. Full polarimetric SAR images acquired by the spaceborne ALOS/PALSAR system from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on November 21, 2010 and April 8, 2011 and acquired by the airborne Pi-SAR2 system from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) on March 12 and 18, 2011 are used for this analysis. Model-based decomposition is applied and clearly shows the scattering mechanism changes at the seriously damaged downtown of Ishinomaki city and the flooded areas near the main stream of the Kitakami River. Polarization orientation angle is estimated to provide additional information to understand the damage effect in the built-up areas. Eigenvalue-eigenvector-based decomposition analysis is also employed to further confirm the scattering mechanism changes of the flooded areas. ALOS/PALSAR does not have fine enough resolution; however, the difference of the scattering mechanisms is sufficient to identify the damaged and flooded areas. In addition, the Pi-SAR2 data sets are used to analyze the flooded paddy fields in Natori city. The relative backscattering values are compared with the multitemporal images and the cross-polarization component (HV) is observed to be more sensitive to the flooded boundary. The automatically detected flooding maps using the cross-polarization component were found to provide relatively accurate results.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6242371
Pages (from-to)2861-2875
Number of pages15
JournalProceedings of the IEEE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami
  • Pi-SAR2
  • damage evaluation
  • decomposition
  • full polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR)
  • natural disaster
  • polarization orientation angle
  • remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Polarimetric SAR analysis of tsunami damage following the March 11, 2011 east Japan earthquake'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this