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Reconstructing movement history of frozen debris lobes in northern Alaska using satellite radar interferometry

Gong, Wenyu, Darrow, Margaret M., Meyer, Franz J., Daanen, Ronald P.
Remote sensing of environment 2019 v.221 pp. 722-740
deformation, hydrodynamics, ice, image analysis, infrastructure, interferometry, landslides, remote sensing, satellites, seasonal variation, soil, synthetic aperture radar, vegetation, winter, Alaska
Frozen debris lobes (FDLs) are slow-moving landslides along permafrost-affected slopes, and consist of soil, rock, organic debris, and areas of massive infiltration ice. Based on their proximity to the adjacent infrastructure, their size, and their flow dynamics, FDLs represent potential geohazards. Eight FDLs (FDL-A, -B, -C, -D, -4, -5, -7, -11) within the Dalton Highway corridor in the Brooks Range, Alaska, USA are the subject of this paper. We examined temporal and spatial variation of FDL displacement using medium-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images and differential SAR Interferometry (dInSAR) techniques. European Remote Sensing satellite 1/2 (ERS 1/2) and Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) acquisitions were used to generate coherent interferograms to study the displacement history of FDLs for 1995–1996 and 2006–2010. We conducted an initial assessment of the capability of satellite InSAR to monitor FDL movement depending on data resolution, season, and vegetation coverage, which also helped us to select useful interferograms. With multi-temporal interferometric displacement maps, we found that seven investigated FDLs (FDL-7 was excluded from this sub-experiment due to limited data coverage) demonstrated strong spatial and seasonal variations in their movement patterns, with maximum displacement rates typically occurring in October and minimum displacement rates during February or March, which is consistent with previously published field study results. Overall, through this study we: (1) delineated the active FDLs during the winter period using a wrapped PALSAR interferogram; (2) analyzed the spatial variation of the deformation field within each FDL body; (3) modeled the seasonal changes of FDL deformation rates through the analysis of multi-temporal ERS tandem interferograms; and (4) integrated InSAR-derived deformation rates with those obtained through historical imagery analysis to determine long-term deformation rates. Results from this study fill the gaps left in the historical imagery analysis and provide important seasonal and spatial deformation data, which are essential in the development of a mitigation plan as these features approach infrastructure. We also summarize our research experience studying these moving features using satellite radar interferometry and believe this can be useful for future studies of similar features.