Urban Damage Level Mapping Based on Scattering Mechanism Investigation Using Fully Polarimetric SAR Data for the 3.11 East Japan Earthquake

Si Wei Chen, Xue Song Wang, Motoyuki Sato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


A quick response to a large-scale natural disaster such as earthquake and tsunami is vital to mitigate further loss. Remote sensing, especially the spaceborne sensors, provides the possibility to monitor a very large scale area in a short time and with regular revisit circle. Damage ranges and damage levels of the destructed urban areas are extremely important information for rescue planning after an event. Rapid mapping of the urban damage levels with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) is still challenging. Compared with single-polarization SAR, fully polarimetric SAR (PolSAR) has a better potential to understand the urban damage from the viewpoint of scattering mechanism investigation. In radar polarimetry, the dominant double-bounce scattering mechanism in an urban area is primarily induced by the ground-wall structures and can reflect the changes of these structures. In this sense, urban damage level in terms of destroyed ground-wall structures can be indicated by the reduction of the dominant double-bounce scattering mechanism, which is the basis of this study. This work first establishes and validates the linear relationship between the urban damage level and the proposed polarimetric damage index using polarimetric model-based decomposition. Then, efforts are focused on the development of a rapid urban damage level mapping technique which mainly includes two steps of urban area extraction and polarimetric damage level estimation. The 3.11 East Japan earthquake and tsunami inducing great-scale destruction are adopted for study using L-band multitemporal spaceborne PolSAR data. Experimental studies demonstrate that the estimated damage levels are closely consistent to the ground-truth. The final urban damage level map for the full scene is generated thereafter. Results achieved in this study further validate the necessity of exploring fully polarimetric technique for damage assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6919-6929
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec


  • Damage level
  • earthquake
  • mapping
  • polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (PolSAR)
  • radar polarimetry
  • scattering mechanism
  • tsunami
  • urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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