NASA Data Made Easy: Getting Started with SAR

Seeing through the clouds with Synthetic Aperture Radar.
This log-ratio image over Huntsville, Alabama, was created from a pair of images acquired on 7/17/2009 and 9/04/2010, approximately one year apart. In the log-ratio image, unchanged features have intermediate gray tones (gray value around zero) while change features are either bright white or dark black. Black features indicate areas where radar brightness decreased while in white areas, the brightness has increased. Credit: ASF DAAC 2017; Includes Material © JAXA/METI 2009, 2010

NASA's airborne- and satellite-based instruments provide data that can be used in understanding a number of natural disasters, including flooding, cyclonic storms, earthquakes and landslides. However, during disasters, conditions are often not ideal for making observations using optical sensors. Synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, which uses the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum, is ideal in that it can penetrate cloud cover and "see through" darkness and weather, allowing a unique view of flood inundation, land cover changes, and modifications of the Earth's surface from landslides, earthquakes, and background tectonic motion.

NASA data are free and open, but can be challenging to use. NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) program and Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) have developed resources and tools to overcome this challenge. Resources were developed for a Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union workshops, NASA Data Made Easy: Getting Started with SAR.

NASA SAR Resources


SAR Datasets for Disasters-related Applications

Uplift and subsidence associated with a June 2007 earthquake swam on Kilauea Volcano are depicted in this ALOS PALSAR interferogram. Kilauea Volcano, located on the southeast portion of the island of Hawaii, has been erupting continuously since 1993. Credit: Zhong Lu, USGS.

Tools for Generating and Working with Analysis-Ready SAR Datasets

Presentations Available on the Earthdata YouTube Playlist NASA Data Made Easy:

  • Introduction to SAR
  • Discover Earth Science Resources at NASA Earthdata
  • GIS Applications of SAR: Flood Mapping
  • Measuring Fault Parameters and Slip Using GeoGateway Online Tools
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