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Researchers study use of SAR imagery as marine meteorological tool

Pennsylvania, USA, 14 August 2006: Two U.S. professors Todd Sikora, assistant professor of meteorology at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and George Young of Penn State claim that they are devising methods to offer greater weather safety to maritime operators through real-time meteorological data. Sikora and Young have received a $230,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to study the use of satellite synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery as a marine meteorological tool.

Current sea surface data are provided from widely spaced buoys placed near coastlines but little is known about the surface conditions between buoys. Sikora and Young, along with Millersville senior Matthew Stepp, say enhanced SAR information might allow a fishing ship’s captain to decide if it is worth the risk to enter a potentially dangerous area.

Environmental monitoring, earth-resource mapping, and military systems require broad-area imaging at high resolutions. Many times the imagery must be acquired in inclement weather or during night as well as day. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) provides such a capability. SAR systems take advantage of the long-range propagation characteristics of radar signals and the complex information processing capability of modern digital electronics to provide high resolution imagery. Synthetic aperture radar complements photographic and other optical imaging capabilities because of the minimum constraints on time-of-day and atmospheric conditions and because of the unique responses of terrain and cultural targets to radar frequencies.

“When wind blows over water, very small waves develop that roughen the surface,” said Sikora. “By using SAR imagery … we have been able to identify the presence of meteorological phenomena such as fronts and cyclones.”