Mangrove forests are tropical trees and shrubs that grow in sheltered intertidal zones. Accurate mapping of mangrove forests is a great challenge for remote sensing because mangroves are periodically submerged by tidal floods. Traditionally, multi-tides images were needed to remove the influence of water; however, such images are often unavailable due to rainy climates and uncertain local tidal conditions. Therefore, extracting mangrove forests from a single-tide imagery is of great importance. In this study, reflectance of red-edge bands in Sentinel-2 imagery were utilized to establish a new vegetation index that is sensitive to submerged mangrove forests. Specifically, red and short-wave near infrared bands were used to build a linear baseline; the average reflectance value of four red-edge bands above the baseline is defined as the Mangrove Forest Index (MFI). To evaluate MFI, capabilities of detecting mangrove forests were quantitatively assessed between MFI and four widely used vegetation indices (VIs). Additionally, the practical roles of MFI were validated by applying it to three mangrove forest sites globally. Results showed that: (1) theoretically, Jensen–Shannon divergence demonstrated that a submerged mangrove forest and water pixels have the largest distance in MFI compared to other VIs. In addition, the boxplot showed that all submerged mangrove forests could be separated from the water background in the MFI image. Furthermore, in the MFI image, to separate mangrove forests and water, the threshold is a constant that is equal to zero. (2) Practically, after applying the MFI to three global sites, 99–102% of submerged mangrove forests were successfully extracted by MFI. Although there are still some uncertainties and limitations, the MFI offers great benefits in accurately mapping mangrove forests as well as other coastal and aquatic vegetation worldwide.
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