Estimating the surface age of arid-zone alluvial fans using spaceborne radar data

Guy Hetz, Amit Mushkin, Dan G. Blumberg, Gidon Baer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Alluvial fans constitute important recorders of tectonic and climatic signals. Thus, determining the age of alluvial deposits is a common and pivotal component in many quantitative studies of recent tectonic activity, past climatic variations and landscape evolution processes. In this study we build on the established relation between surface age and surface roughness and examine the use of radar backscatter data as a calibrated proxy for constraining the age of alluvial surfaces in such environments. This study was conducted in the hyper-arid environment of the southern Arava rift valley north of the Gulf of Aqaba. ALOS-PALSAR L-Band dual-polarized (i.e., HH, HV) data with different incidence angles (24°, 38°) and resolutions (6.25m, 12.5m) were examined for 11 alluvial surfaces, for which surface ages ranging from 5-160 ka were previously determined. As expected, radar backscatter in such low-relief hyper-arid desert environments responded primarily to SR at pixel-scales and below. Nonetheless, measured backscatter values for single pixels were found to be unsuitable proxies for surface age because of the natural variability in SR across alluvial units of a given age. Instead, we found the statistical properties of radar pixel populations within a given unit to be the most effective proxies for surface age. Our results show that the mean backscatter value within representativeROI's (region of interest) provided the best predictor for surface age: Lower mean backscatter values correlated well with older and smoother alluvial surfaces. The HH-polarized image with ∼38° incidence angle and 6.25 m/pixel resolution allowed the best separation of surface ages. This radar-based approach allows us to quantitatively constrain the age of alluvial surfaces in the studied region at comparable uncertainty to that of "conventional" surface dating techniques commonly used.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSAR Image Analysis, Modeling, and Techniques XIII
StatePublished - 9 Dec 2013
EventSAR Image Analysis, Modeling, and Techniques XIII - Dresden, Germany
Duration: 24 Sep 201326 Sep 2013

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X
ISSN (Electronic)1996-756X


ConferenceSAR Image Analysis, Modeling, and Techniques XIII


  • Alluvial fan
  • SAR
  • Surface dating
  • Surface roughness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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