Artist’s conceptualization of NISAR in orbit.
Artist’s conceptualization of NASA–Indian Space Research Organization Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) in orbit. The mission will produce L band (at 25-centimeter wavelength) and S band (at 12-centimeter wavelength) radar images and interferometric data globally. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In 2020, a satellite radar mission run jointly by NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will launch. Once operational, the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission will survey Earth’s changing ecosystems, dynamic surface, and ice masses. NISAR will collect data on biomass, natural hazards, sea level rise, and groundwater.

In an effort to engage the science and applications communities, the project organized a series of workshops in 2014 and 2015, the most recent of which was held in November 2015 at the ISRO Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad. A companion workshop was held the month before at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., and, in 2014, parallel workshops were held in Ahmedabad and at U.S. Geological Survey headquarters in Reston, Va.

The workshops bring workers and decision makers from industry and all levels of government together with scientists and engineers.

The intent of the workshops is to bring workers and decision makers from industry and all levels of government together with scientists and engineers working to develop the NISAR mission and data products. Although the instruments and general mission operation plan have already been established, the NISAR project seeks input from potential users of NISAR data so that information can be tailored to users’ needs.

At the November 2015 workshop in India, presentations and discussions centered on four general themes: ecosystems, including agriculture; geology, including surface deformation for subsurface reservoirs (water, oil, and gas); ocean and ice applications; and change detection for hazard mitigation and disaster response. The workshops began with a set of tutorials, giving background information for the participants, who ranged from sophisticated users to those with little experience with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data.

Topics covered included the principles of radar remote sensing and processing, applications of interferometric SAR (InSAR) for measuring and mapping land surface deformation, applications of multipolarization SAR to ecosystem monitoring, and change detection. As a measure of the interest in the project in academia, government, and industry, more than 60 short talks and posters were presented.

Potential users of data had the opportunity to brainstorm what specific data sets and configurations they needed.

An important part of all four workshops has been the breakout sessions, in which discussions focused on the needs of the users in specific areas. These smaller sessions facilitated discussions between the users and the NISAR project on requirements and possibilities. In this way, potential users of NISAR data had the opportunity to brainstorm what specific data sets and configurations they needed. The floor was also opened to potential local users of NISAR data.

Out of these sessions have come a number of recommendations that the project is working to implement, including providing training for users of InSAR and polarimetric SAR, facilitating the availability of NISAR-like data for development, reducing the time delay from observation to distribution of NISAR products (a high priority for the hazard community), and involving the applications community in project calibration and validation activities.

Reports from the 2014 workshops are available at NISAR project websites in the United States and India. Reports from the latest workshops will be available soon. We encourage users with an interest in NISAR products to contact us through these websites or via email. This series of applications workshops will continue until the mission is launched.


Our work is sponsored by the U.S. government.

—Tom G. Farr, Susan Owen, and Paul Rosen, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; email:

Citation: Farr, T. G., S. Owen, and P. Rosen (2016), Satellite radar to observe Earth’s changing surface, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO052427. Published on 18 May 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY 3.0
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