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Active Microwave Remote Sensing . Lecture 8 Oct 22, 2007. Recap: passive and active RS. Passive : uses natural energy, either reflected sunlight (solar energy) or emitted thermal or microwave radiation. Active : sensor creates its own energy Transmitted toward Earth or other targets

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active microwave remote sensing

Active Microwave Remote Sensing

Lecture 8

Oct 22, 2007

recap passive and active rs
Recap: passive and active RS
  • Passive: uses natural energy, either reflected sunlight (solar energy) or emitted thermal or microwave radiation.
  • Active: sensor creates its own energy
    • Transmitted toward Earth or other targets
    • Interacts with atmosphere and/or surface
    • Reflects back toward sensor (backscatter)
    • Advantages: all weathers and all times
widely used active rs systems
Widely used active RS systems

RADAR: RAdio Detection And Ranging

Long-wavelength microwaves (1 – 100 cm)

LIDAR:LIght Detection And Ranging

Short-wavelength laser light (UV, visible, near IR)

SONAR: SOund Navigation And Ranging: (very long wave, low Hz)

Sound can not travel through vacuum

Earth and water absorb acoustic energy far less than EMR energy

Seismic survey use small explosions, record the reflected sound

Medical imaging using ultrasound

Sound waves through a water column.

Sound waves are extremely slow (300 m/s in air, 1,530 m/s in sea-water)

Bathymetric sonar (measure water depths and changes in bottom topography )

Imaging sonar or sidescan imaging sonar (imaging the bottom topography and bottom roughness)

types of radar
Types of radar
  • Nonimaging radar
    • Traffic police use handheld Doppler radar system determine the speed by measuring frequency shift between transmitted and return microwave signal
    • Plan position indicator (PPI) radars use a rotating antenna to detect targets over a circular area, such as NEXRDA
    • Satellite-based radar altimeters (low spatial resolution but high vertical resolution)
  • Imaging radar
    • Usually high spatial resolution,
    • Consists of a transmitter, a receiver, one or more antennas, GPS, computers

Band Designations

(common wavelengths Wavelength () Frequency ()

shown in parentheses)in cm in GHz


Ka (0.86 cm) 0.75 - 1.18 40.0 to 26.5

K 1.18 - 1.67 26.5 to 18.0

Ku 1.67 - 2.4 18.0 to 12.5

X (3.0 and 3.2 cm) 2.4 - 3.8 12.5 - 8.0

C (7.5, 6.0 cm) 3.8 - 7.5 8.0 - 4.0

S (8.0, 9.6, 12.6 cm) 7.5 - 15.0 4.0 - 2.0

L (23.5, 24.0, 25.0 cm) 15.0 - 30.0 2.0 - 1.0

P (68.0 cm) 30.0 - 100 1.0 - 0.3

two imaging radar systems
Two imaging radar systems

In World War II, ground based radar was used to detect incoming planes and ships (non-imaging radar).

Imaging RADAR was not developed until the 1950s (after World War II). Since then, side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) has been used to get detailed images of enemy sites along the edge of the flight field. SLAR is usually a real aperture radar. The longer the antenna (but there is limitation), the better the spatial resolution

  • Real aperture radar (RAR)
    • Aperture means antenna
    • A fixed length (for example: 1 - 15m)
  • Synthetic aperture radar (SAR)
    • 1m (11m) antenna can be synthesized electronically into a 600m (15 km) synthetic length.
    • Most (air-, space-borne) radar systems now use SAR.
radar nomenclature and geometry
Radar Nomenclature and Geometry

Radar Nomenclature

• nadir

• azimuth (or flight) direction

• look (or range) direction

• range (near, middle, and far)

• depression angle ()

• incidence angle ()

• altitude above-ground-level, H

• polarization

Azimuth flight direction

Look/Range direction

Flightline groundtrack

Near range

Far range

slant range vs ground range geometry
Slant-range vs. Ground-range geometry

Radar imagery has a different geometry than that produced by most conventional remote sensor systems, such as cameras, multispectral scanners or area-array detectors. Therefore, one must be very careful when attempting to make radargrammetric measurements.

• Uncorrected radar imagery is displayed in what is called slant-range geometry, i.e., it is based on the actual distance from the radar to each of the respective features in the scene.

• It is possible to convert the slant-range display into the true ground-range display on the x-axis so that features in the scene are in their proper planimetric (x,y) position relative to one another in the final radar image.

range or across track resolution
Range (or across-track) Resolution
  • t.c called pulse length. It seems the short pulse length will lead fine range resolution.
  • However, the shorter the pulse length, the less the total amount of energy that illuminates the target.

Pulse duration (t)

= 0.1 x 10 -6 sec



azimuth or along track resolution
Azimuth (or along-track) Resolution
  • The shorter wavelength and longer antenna will improve azimuth resolution.
  • The shorter the wavelength, the poorer the atmospheric and vegetation penetration capability
  • There is practical limitation to the antenna length, while SAR will solve this problem.
2 sar
2. SAR

A major advance in radar remote sensing has been the improvement in azimuth resolution through the development of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems. Great improvement in azimuth resolution could be realized if a longer antenna were used. Engineers have developed procedures to synthesize a very long antenna electronically. Like a brute force or real aperture radar, a synthetic aperture radar also uses a relatively small antenna (e.g., 1 m) that sends out a relatively broad beam perpendicular to the aircraft. The major difference is that a greater number of additional beams are sent toward the object. Doppler principles are then used to monitor the returns from all these additional microwave pulses to synthesize the azimuth resolution to become one very narrow beam.


Azimuth resolution is constant = D/2, it is independent of the slant range distance,  , and the platform altitude. So the same SAR system in a aircraft and in a spacecraft should have the same resolution. There is no other remote sensing system with this capability.

speckle noise
Speckle noise
  • Using SAR, we can get high spatial resolution in the azimuth dimension (direction). But the coherently recording returned echoes (SAR) also causes speckle noise.
  • For one-single channel SAR system, the speckle noise has a multiplicative nature for the amplitude and an additive nature for the phase.
  • For multi-dimensional (or polarimetric) SAR (or PolSAR) system, speckle noise is even complicated.
  • There are two ways to remove speckle noise:
    • Using several looks, i.e., averaging takes place, usually 4 or 16 looks (N). But lose resolution: Azimuth resolution = N(D/2)
    • Modeling the noise, then remove them.
  • The portion of the outgoing radar signal that the target redirects directly back towards the radar antenna.
  • When a radar system transmits a pulse of energy to the ground (A), it scatters off the ground in all directions (C). A portion of the scattered energy is directed back toward the radar receiver (B), and this portion is referred to as "backscatter".

Amount of backscatter per unit area





Penetration ability to forest

Response of A Pine Forest Stand to X-, C- and L-band Microwave Energy

  • Unpolarizedenergy vibrates in all possible directions perpendicular to the direction of travel.
  • The pulse of electromagnetic energy is filtered and sent out by the antenna may be vertically or horizontallypolarized.
  • The pulse of energy received by the antenna may be vertically or horizontallypolarized
  • VV, HH – like-polarized imagery
  • VH, HV- cross-polarized imagery

Penetration ability

into subsurface


Penetration ability

to heavy rainfall

SIR-C/X-SAR Images of a Portion of Rondonia, Brazil, Obtained on April 10, 1994

radar shadow
Radar Shadow
  • Shadows in radar images can enhance the geomorphology and texture of the terrain. Shadows can also obscure the most important features in a radar image, such as the information behind tall buildings or land use in deep valleys. If certain conditions are met, any feature protruding above the local datum can cause the incident pulse of microwave energy to reflect all of its energy on the foreslope of the object and produce a black shadow for the backslope
  • Unlike airphotos, where light may be scattered into the shadow area and then recorded on film, there is no information within the radar shadow area. It is black.
  • Two terrain features (e.g., mountains) with identical heights and fore- and backslopes may be recorded with entirely different shadows, depending upon where they are in the across-track. A feature that casts an extensive shadow in the far-range might have its backslope completely illuminated in the near-range.
  • Radar shadows occur only in the cross-track dimension. Therefore, the orientation of shadows in a radar image provides information about the look direction and the location of the near- and far-range
shadows and look direction
Shadows and look direction

Shuttle Imaging Radar (SIR-C) Image of Maui

major active radar systems
Major Active Radar Systems
  • Seasat, June 1978, 105 days mission, L-HH band, 25 m resolution
  • SIR-A, Nov. 1981, 2.5 days mission, L-HH band, 40 m resolution
  • SIR-B, Oct. 1984, 8 days mission, L-HH band, about 25 m resolution
  • SIR-C, April and Sept. 1994, 10 days each. X-, C-, L- bands multipolarization (HH, VV, HV, VH), 10-30 m resolution
  • JERS-1, 1992-1998, L-band, 15-30 m resolution (Japan)
  • RADARSAT, Jan. 1995-now, C-HH band, 10, 50, and 100 m (Canada)
  • ERS-1, 2, July 1991-now, C-VV band, 20-30 m (ESA)
  • ASAR on EnviSat, 2002-now, C band (ESA)
  • AIRSAR/TOPSAR, 1998-now, C,L,P bands with full polarization, 10m
  • NEXRAD, 1988-now, S-band, 1-4 km,
  • TRMM precipitation radar, 1997, Ku-band, 4km, vertical 250m (USA and


active radar systems for mars
Active Radar Systems for Mars
  • MARSIS (Mars advanced radar for subsurface and ionosphere sounding) of Mras Express, 2003, 1.8-5 MHz, up to 5 KM deep (ESA)

  • SHARAD (shallow subsurface radar) of MRO, 2005, 15-25 MHz, up to 1Km deep (ISA-NASA)