Oct 19, 2016

Potential Benefits of TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X

The German satellite duo TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X have consistently delivered one-of-a-kind Earth observation data since 2007 and 2010, hence shaping the international research landscape.

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Now, scientific users from across the globe have gathered for the TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X Science Meeting at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen, where they will discuss the results obtained from the data and define requirements for future remote sensing technology. Approximately 200 presentations between 17 and 20 October 2016 will describe state-of-the-art research, including insight from the areas of glaciology, hydrology, permafrost, sea ice, landslides, agriculture, forestry, volcanology, coastal and ocean research, geo-risks, and the methods applied to produce digital terrain models. Reporting live from the conference, the TanDEM-X Blog will present DLR talks from the Science Meeting and will outline how researchers around the world use data from the two radar satellites.

Research applications

Radar sensors are particularly important in the field of Earth observation, as they can deliver images irrespective of cloud cover and at any time of the day or night. From space, they are able to capture expansive areas of more than 100 kilometres in length. Moreover, the civilian radar satellites TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X have measured the Earth with unprecedented accuracy over the course of their missions, contributing significantly to the scientific exploitation of the data. The satellites are still in operation and may indeed continue to be in the service of science for many years.

“International research facilities and organisations have been using the data acquired thus far to analyse, among other things, natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. The strategies and measures developed on the basis of the data will become increasingly effective for the prevention or management of crises situations as the influential factors and correlations are known,” explains Achim Roth from the DLR Earth Observation Center.

Users in the area of environmental protection have shown, among other things, that they can utilise the radar satellites to observe systematic deforestation or illegal felling of woodland areas. This applies in particular to rainforests, as their sheer magnitude and the prevailing weather conditions mean they can only be satisfactorily monitored using radar sensors. Forested areas are among the key fields of scientific concern, as their vast reservoirs of biomass directly influence the greenhouse gas effect: a substantial quantity of carbon dioxide is extracted from the woodlands during removal or decomposition of vegetation. Large-scale slash-and-burn practices are particularly critical, as the carbon dioxide stored in the forests is released directly, producing a correspondingly high concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In contrast, planned deforestation – for instance as a source of timber – releases the natural carbon reservoirs contained in the woodland areas over a longer period and with a significant delay.