Inferring water table depth dynamics from ENVISAT-ASAR C-band backscatter over a range of peatlands from deeply-drained to natural conditions
Water table depth (WTD) is one of the key variables controlling many processes in peatlands. Reliable WTD estimates based on remote sensing data would advance peatland research from global-scale climate monitoring to field-scale ecosystem management. Here, we evaluate the relationship between ENVISAT Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) C-band backscatter (~s°) and in situ observed WTD dynamics over 17 peatlands in Germany covering deeply-drained to natural conditions, excluding peatlands dominated by forest or inundation periods. The results show increasing ~s° with shallower WTD (=wetter conditions), with average temporal Pearson correlation coefficients of 0.38 and 0.54 (-) for natural (also including disturbed and rewetted/restored states) and agriculturally-used drained peatlands, respectively. The anomaly correlation further highlights the potential of ASAR backscatter to capture interannual variations with values of 0.33 and 0.43 (-), for natural and drained peatlands. The skill metrics, which are similar to those for evaluations of top soil moisture from C-band over mineral soils, indicate a strong capillary connection between WTD and the ‘C-band-sensitive’ top 1–2 cm of peat soils, even during dry periods with WTD at around -1 m. Various backscatter processing algorithms were tested without significant differences. The cross-over angle concept for correcting dynamical vegetation effects was tested, but not superior, to constant incidence angle correction.