Exploring the Applications of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Data

This DataSheet was prepared by Aleshia Mueller in collaboration with Charles Burrows, Claude Duguay, Melanie Engram, Carlos Rios, and Anton Sommer.

The Dataset

Use and Relevance

Use in Teaching


  • The basic principles of SAR concepts
  • Glacier monitoring
  • Sea ice mapping
  • Wind movement on ocean surface
  • Mapping of Antarctic
  • Principles of volcano inflation and deflation
  • Urban signatures [EXPLAIN]
  • Land cover mapping/monitoring
  • Geomorphology and ocean surface during hurricanes


  • Manipulate jpgs in image-viewing software
  • Interpret SAR data to recognize and identify geophysical phenomena on the earth such as water, land, ice, cities, wind over the ocean, and volcanoes

Exploring the Data


Data Type and Presentation

Samples of this restricted data are processed and available in a graphic format on the "Capturing a Dynamic Planet" CD-Rom (which contains its own viewer) for educational use. Images are available as JPGs.

Accessing the Data

The Capturing a Dynamic Planet CD is currently unavailable from the ASF, but visit their website for more info.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

CD-ROM includes an Image Browser. JPG images are also available for viewing within the "assets" folder in the "images" subfolder.

Tools for Data Manipulation

CD-ROM includes an Image Browser. Images can also be used with Google Earth, ImageJ, My World GIS, and any JPG image editing software.

About the Data

Collection Methods

SAR data is collected from polar-orbiting satellites. The SAR instrument is an active microwave sensor that bounces radar off the earth and receives the reflected backscatter. Examples of SAR satellites that are currently acquiring data are Radarsat-1, ERS-2, Envisat and ALOS. The signal data are downlinked to various receiving groundstations and the data must be processed in order to produce an image.

Limitations and Sources of Error

Water on top of ice (lake or sea ice) can cause erroneous image interpretation.

References and Resources

Education Resources that Use this Dataset

How do teachers learn how to look at a SAR image and interpret what the image shows?

  • Start with the Radar/Microwave chapter in the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing's tutorial on remote sensing technology and its applications. This interactive module is intended as an overview at a senior high school or early university level and touches on physics, environmental sciences, mathematics, computer sciences, geography and environmental education.
  • The Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing provides a comprehensive set of radar remote sensing training materials. It is suitable for use at the undergraduate and graduate levels. To reach a wide audience, the material is available in English/French and Spanish/Portuguese (the latter on CD only). This package was produced as part of the Canadian GlobeSAR-2 Program to support the development of radar training capabilities in universities and agencies in South and Central America. It incorporates training slides developed by scientists at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing for the GlobeSAR and ProRADAR programs, with significant contributions from radar specialists of different disciplines, and by scientists and user agencies in many countries.
  • Here is a great image quiz that contains three examples of SAR interpretation.

Other related Education Resources

The main concern with teaching with SAR amplitude data is that it is represented as grayscale and this lack of color could reduce student interest.

Another concern is "layover" when imaging mountains.

Related Links

Remote Sensing Core Curriculum Homepage (more info)