- Original Caption Released with Image:
This is a comparison of images over Prince Albert, produced by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on its 20th orbit on April 10, 1994, and again on orbit 20 of the second flight of Endeavour on October 1, 1994. The area is centered at 53.91 degrees north latitude and 104.69 degrees west longitude and is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) north and 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of the town of Prince Albert in the Saskatchewan province of Canada. The image covers the area east of Candle Lake, between the gravel highway of 120 and west of highway 106. The area imaged is near the southern limit of the boreal forest.
The boreal forest of North America is a continuous vegetation belt at high latitudes stretching across the continent from the Atlantic shoreline of central Labrador and then westward across Canada to the interior mountains and central coastal plains of Alaska. The forest is also part of a larger northern hemisphere circumpolar boreal forest belt. Coniferous trees dominate the entire forest but deciduous trees are also present. During the month of April, the forest experiences seasonal changes from a frozen condition to a thawed condition. The trees are completely frozen over the winter season and the forest floor is covered by snow. As the average temperature rises in the spring, the trees are thawed and the snow melts. This transition has an impact on the rate of moisture evaporation and release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In late September and early October, the boreal forest experiences a relatively different seasonal change. At this time, the leaves on deciduous trees start changing color and dropping off. The soil and trees are quite often moist due to frequent rainfall and cloud cover. The evaporation of moisture and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere also diminishes at this time. SIR-C/X-SAR is sensitive to the moisture of soil and vegetation and can sense this freeze-thaw cycle and the summer-fall seasonal transition over forested areas in particular. Optical sensors, by contrast, are blind to these regions, which are perpetually obscured by thick cloud cover. These changes were detected by comparing the April and October color composite images of L-band data in red, C-band data in green and X-band (vertically received and transmitted) in blue. The changes in intensity of each color over lakes, various forest stands and clear cuts in the two images is striking. Lakes such as Lake Heiberg, Crabtree Lake and Williams Lake, in the right middle part of the image, are frozen in April (appearing in bright blue) and melted (appearing in black) in October. The higher intensity of blue over lakes in April is due to low penetration of the X-band (vertically received and transmitted) and the radar's high sensitivity to surface features. Forest stands also exhibit major changes between the two images. The red areas in the October image are old jack pine canopies that cause higher return at L-band because of their moist condition in late summer compared to their partially frozen condition in April (in purple). Similarly, in the areas near the middle of the image, where black spruce and mixed aspen and jack pine trees dominate, the contrast between blue in October and red and green in April is an indication that the top of the canopy (needles and branches) were frozen in April and moist in October. The changes due to deforestation by logging companies or natural fires can also be detected by comparing the images. For example, the small blue area near the intersection of Harding Road and Highway 120 is the result of logging which occurred after the April data was acquired. The surface area of clear cut is approximately 4 hectares, which is calculated from the high-resolution capability of the radar images and verified by scientists participating in field work during the mission.
Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (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), with the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fuer Luft und Raumfahrt e.V.(DLR), the major partner in science, operations and data processing of X-SAR.
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