Evaluation of radar imagery for geological and cartographic applications

Open-File Report 81-1358




The House/Senate conference report on H.R. 4930 (96th Congress), the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, 1980, stated that the U.S. Geological Survey should "begin the use of side-looking airborne radar imagery for topographic and geological mapping, and geological resource surveys in promising areas, particularly Alaska." In response to this mandate, the Survey acquired radar data and began scientific studies to analyze and interpret these data. About 70 percent of the project funding was used to acquire radar imagery and to evaluate Alaskan applications. Results of these studies indicate that radar images have a unique incremental value for certain geologic and cartographic applications but that the images are best suited for use as supplemental information sources or as primary data sources in areas of persistent cloud cover.

The value of radar data is greatest for geologic mapping and resource surveys, particularly for mineral and petroleum exploration, where the objective is to locate any single feature or group of features that may control the occurrences of these resources. Radar images are considered by oil and gas companies to be worth the cost of data acquisition within a limited area of active exploration.

Radar images also have incremental value for geologic site studies and hazard mapping. The need in these cases is TO inventory all geologic hazards to human life, property, resources, and the environment. For other geologic applications, radar images have a relatively small incremental value over a combination of Landsat images and aerial photographs.

The value of radar images for cartographic applications is minimal, except when they are used as a substitute for aerial photographs and topographic maps in persistently cloud-covered areas. If conventional data sources are not available, radar images provide useful information on terrain relief, landforms, drainage patterns, and land cover. Screen less lithography is a low-cost method of reproducing the images.

The images from modern, commercially available radar systems have good visual quality; they also have better geometric accuracy and higher information content than images from older systems. Images from modern systems, however, also have some of the same disadvantages as those from older systems. The most serious problem is that considerable information is lost in the process of recording the radar return on film. Another problem is that the oblique radar view of the landscape results in interpretations that are biased by look direction. A compromise antenna depression angle also commonly results in inadequate or excessive shadowing in parts of the image. There is a need for high-resolution digital data, not currently available from the private sector, to significantly improve the utility of radar data for geologic and cartographic applications.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Evaluation of radar imagery for geological and cartographic applications
Series title:
Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
iii, 37 p.