A Review on Applications of Imaging Synthetic Aperture Radar with a Special Focus on Cryospheric Studies


The cryosphere is the frozen part of the Earth’s system. Snow and ice are the main constituents of the cryosphere and may be found in different states, such as snow, freshwater ice, sea ice, perma-frost, and continental ice masses in the form of glaciers and ice sheets. The present review mainly deals with state-of-the-art applications of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with a special emphasize on cryospheric information extraction. SAR is the most important active microwave remote sensing (RS) instrument for ice monitoring, which provides high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface. SAR is an ideal sensor in RS technology, which works in all-weather and day and night conditions to provide useful unprecedented information, especially in the cryospheric regions which are almost inaccessible areas on Earth. This paper addresses the technological evolution of SAR and its applications in studying the various components of the cryosphere. The arrival of SAR radically changed the capabilities of information extraction related to ice type, new ice formation, and ice thickness. SAR applications can be divided into two broad classes-polarimetric applications and interferometric applications. Polarimetric SAR has been effectively used for mapping calving fronts, crevasses, surface structures, sea ice, detection of icebergs, etc. The paper also summarizes both the operational and climate change research by using SAR for sea ice parameter detection. Digital elevation model (DEM) generation and glacier velocity mapping are the two most important applications used in cryosphere using SAR interferometry or interferometric SAR (InSAR). Space-borne InSAR techniques for measuring ice flow velocity and topography have developed rapidly over the last decade. InSAR is capable of measuring ice motion that has radically changed the science of glaciers and ice sheets. Measurement of temperate glacier velocities and surface characteristics by using airborne and space-borne interferometric satellite images have been the significant application in glaciology and cryospheric studies. Space-borne InSAR has contributed to major evolution in many research areas of glaciological study by measuring ice-stream flow velocity, improving understanding of ice-shelf processes, yielding velocity for flux-gate based mass-balance assessment, and mapping flow of mountain glaciers. The present review summarizes the salient development of SAR applications in cryosphere and glaciology.

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Jawak, S. , Bidawe, T. and Luis, A. (2015) A Review on Applications of Imaging Synthetic Aperture Radar with a Special Focus on Cryospheric Studies. Advances in Remote Sensing, 4, 163-175. doi: 10.4236/ars.2015.42014.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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