Satellite scatterometer estimation of urban built-up volume: Validation with airborne lidar data

Adam J. Mathews, Amy E. Frazier, Son V. Nghiem, Gregory Neumann, Yun Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Accurately mapping urban infrastructure and extent is a high priority for resource management and service allocation as well as for addressing environmental, socioeconomic, and geopolitical concerns. Most available data products only document surficial (two-dimensional) land use and land cover (LULC), yet a substantial component of urban growth occurs in the vertical dimension. Light detection and ranging (lidar) data offer the potential for monitoring three-dimensional (3D) change, but the extreme lack of systematic lidar coverage worldwide inflicts considerable gaps in both spatial and temporal coverage. Satellite scatterometer (radar) data may serve as an alternative data source for characterizing urban growth and development in both the horizontal and vertical directions. The accuracy of these radar-based datasets for estimating building volumes remains to be validated quantitatively. For nine U.S. cities, we test whether scatterometer data can be used to estimate 3D urban built-up volume. We found strong, linear correlations between the lidar-derived and radar-derived building volume estimates for all cities with r2 values as high as 0.98 when using spatial trend analysis. Given the high expense that limits lidar data acquisition to small areas at sporadic points in time, satellite scatterometer data provide a breakthrough method for monitoring both vertical growth and horizontal expansion of cities across the world with a continuous decadal time scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-107
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Built-up volume
  • Dense sampling method
  • Land cover
  • Land use
  • Lidar
  • Radar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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