SAR Provides 3D Earth Views; No Special Glasses Needed

EarthzineEarth Observation, Original, Technology

Photo of buildings reflected in a puddle. Photo Credit: Till Westermayer

Map of the urban environment of Toulouse, France3D movies are making jaws drop in theaters. High above the Earth, 3D technology is improving the monitoring of natural and urban environments. This 3D is from a satellite radar technique known as Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR for short.

The European Space Agency (ESA) recently highlighted SAR on its website. The technique measures polarized information in signals sent from Earth to a satellite sensor. Images from different angles are used to create a 3D effect.

The data is particularly useful for assessing water resources and carbon stocks, the Agency says.

Advances in the field of 3D monitoring were a topic at a January POLinSAR workshop at the ESA’s Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy, near Rome.

Those advances include TanDEM-X, launched by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in June 2010, which will add to other data that comes from Canada’s Radarsat-2 and Japan’s ALOS mission.

For examples, see previous Earthzine stories on Radarsat-2 and ALOS, as well as an interview with Alberto Moreira, principal investigator for the TanDEM-X mission.

You can download a video that maps the urban environment of Toulouse, France, and find out more on SAR technology on the Agency website at

The link includes information on how SAR is being used to monitor wetlands in France and fire-scarred lands in northern Canada.