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This image shows Death Valley, California, centered at 36.629 degrees north latitude, 117.069 degrees west longitude. The image shows Furnace Creek alluvial fan and Furnace Creek Ranch at the far right, and the sand dunes near Stove Pipe Wells at the center. The dark fork-shaped feature between Furnace Creek fan and the dunes is a smooth flood-plain which encloses Cottonball Basin.
This SIR-C/X-SAR supersite is an area of extensive field investigations and has been visited by both Space Radar Lab astronaut crews. Elevations in the valley range from 70 meters (230 feet) below sea level, the lowest in the United States, to more than 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) above sea level. Scientists are using SIR-C/X-SAR data from Death Valley to help answer a number of different questions about Earth's geology. One question concerns how alluvial fans are formed and change through time under the influence of climatic changes and earthquakes. Alluvial fans are gravel deposits that wash down from the mountains over time. They are visible in the image as circular, fan-shaped bright areas extending into the darker valley floor from the mountains. Information about the alluvial fans helps scientists study Earth's ancient climate. Scientists know the fans are built up through climatic and tectonic processes and they will use the SIR-C/X-SAR data to understand the nature and rates of weathering processes on the fans, soil formation and the transport of sand and dust by the wind. SIR-C/X-SAR's sensitivity to centimeter-scale (inch-scale) roughness provides detailed maps of surface texture. Such information can be used to study the occurrence and movement of dust storms and sand dunes.
The goal of these studies is to gain a better understanding of the record of past climatic changes and the effects of those changes on a sensitive environment. This may lead to a better ability to predict future response of the land to different potential global climate-change scenarios.
Death Valley is also one of the primary calibration sites for SIR-C/X-SAR. The bright dots near the center of the image are corner reflectors that have been set-up to calibrate the radar as the shuttle passes overhead. Thirty triangular-shaped reflectors (they look like aluminum pyramids) have been deployed by the calibration team from JPL over a 40- by 40-kilometer (25- by 25-mile) area in and around Death Valley. The calibration team will also deploy transponders (electronic reflectors) and receivers to measure the radar signals from SIR-C/X-SAR on the ground. SIR-C/X-SAR is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth.
The radars illuminate Earth with microwaves allowing detailed observations at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. SIR-C/X-SAR uses three microwave wavelengths: L-band (24 cm), C-band (6 cm) and X-band (3 cm). The multi-frequency data will be used by the international scientific community to better understand the global environment and how it is changing. The SIR-C/X-SAR data, complemented by aircraft and ground studies, will give scientists clearer insights into those environmental changes which are caused by nature and those changes which are induced by human activity.
SIR-C was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. X-SAR was developed by the Dornier and Alenia Spazio companies for the German space agency, Deutsche Agentur fuer Raumfahrtangelegenheiten (DARA), and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI).
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