Tsunami damage investigation of built-up areas using multitemporal spaceborne full polarimetric SAR images

Si Wei Chen, Motoyuki Sato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the use of full polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (PolSAR) images for tsunami damage investigation from the polarimetric viewpoint. The great tsunami induced by the earthquake of March 11th, 2011, which occurred beneath the Pacific off the northeastern coast of Japan, is adopted as the study case using the Advanced Land Observing Satellite/Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar multitemporal PolSAR images. The polarimetric scattering mechanism changes were quantitatively examined with model-based decomposition. It is clear that the observed reduction in the double-bounce scattering was due to a change into odd-bounce scattering, since a number of buildings were completely washed away, leaving relatively a rough surface. Polarization orientation (PO) angles in built-up areas are also investigated. After the tsunami, PO angle distributions from damaged areas spread to a wider range and fluctuated more strongly than those from the before-tsunami period. Two polarimetric indicators are proposed for damage level discrimination at the city block scale. One is the ratio of the dominant double-bounce scattering mechanism observed after-tsunami to that observed before-tsunami, which can directly reflect the amount of destroyed ground-wall structures in built-up areas. The second indicator is the standard deviation of the PO angle differences, which is used to interpret the homogeneity reduction of PO angles. Experimental results from after-and before-tsunami comparisons validate the efficiency of these indexes, since the built-up areas with different damage levels can be well discriminated. In addition, comparisons between before-tsunami pairs further confirm the stability of the two polarimetric indexes over a long temporal duration. These interesting results also demonstrate the importance of full polarimetric information for natural disaster assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6353568
Pages (from-to)1985-1997
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Damage assessment
  • model-based decomposition
  • natural disaster
  • polarimetry
  • polarization orientation angle
  • synthetic aperture radar (SAR)
  • urban area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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