SAR Handbook cover
Front page of SAR Handbook: Design by Leah Kucera, cover image shows the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, as seen by Sentinel-1 C-band SAR on November 26, 2018. (Image processing by Jeremy Nicoll, Alaska Satellite Facility; contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2018, processed by ESA).

From Theory to Practice: Freely-Available eBook Enables Monitoring and Protection of Forests Worldwide

“Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Handbook: Comprehensive Methodologies for Forest Monitoring and Biomass Estimation” released
By Africa I. Flores-Anderson, Kelsey E. Herndon, Dr. Rajesh Bahadur Thapa, Leah Kucera

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), due to its all-weather capability and observational characteristics, is a vital tool for assessment of forest structure. Nonetheless, there has been a knowledge gap in the applied use of SAR technology for forestry applications. SERVIR, a joint venture between USAID and NASA, partnered with SilvaCarbon to contribute to filling this gap so forest managers and remote-sensing specialists can benefit from the information provided by freely available SAR datasets.

SERVIR partners with centers of excellence called “Hubs” in the West Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Hindu Kush-Himalaya, Lower Mekong, and Amazonia regions to build the capacities of countries there in the use of geospatial and Earth observation data in decision-making processes.

Through the collaboration of SERVIR and SilvaCarbon, an interagency technical cooperation program of the U.S. Government focusing on working in tropical countries to improve monitoring and reporting of carbon across landscape types, developed a vision to build international capacity in the use of SAR. The plan entailed working with world-renowned SAR experts to provide trainings in SERVIR regions and the development of an applied document: the SAR Handbook: Comprehensive Methodologies for Forest Monitoring and Biomass Estimation and complementary materials. These additional materials include training tutorials and quick reference guides that explain key SAR concepts.


SAR Handbook and accesses by country and SERVIR Regions.
SAR Handbook and accesses by country and SERVIR Regions.

With SAR imagery it is possible to assess not only deforestation but also forest degradation, since it is possible to assess vegetation structure. For example, Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies has identified illegal roads and deforestation hotspots in areas constantly covered by clouds thanks to the use of SAR imagery. The SAR Handbook explains step-by-step how to process and analyze SAR imagery to carry out similar assessments of forest degradation and deforestation.

The handbook also contains a collection of state-of-the-art methods and relevant theory designed to enhance forest monitoring and biomass estimation capacities through the application of SAR data. It aligns with both SERVIR and SilvaCarbon’s missions to improve environmental management and resilience in forests and other critical landscapes.

The SAR Handbook distills more than 30 years of research on SAR, and translates it for specialists working on forest monitoring systems. It also takes advantage of freely available SAR images — for example, from European Space Agency Copernicus Sentinel-1 datasets — and will help prepare the forestry community for forthcoming satellite missions providing additional freely-available SAR datasets such as the NASA-ISRO and the European Space Agency’s BIOMASS missions.

In just the first month since its release, the full SAR Handbook has been accessed more than 100,000 times across 149 countries. A series of animated videos explaining how SAR works and how it can be used in forestry applications is planned for release in fall 2019.

SilvaCarbon is a cooperative technical program of the U.S. Government focusing on working in tropical countries to improve monitoring and reporting of carbon across landscape types.

For more information on SERVIR, click here. For more information on SilvaCarbon, click here. To download the SAR Handbook, click here.

Strategic Objective
Carbon, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation (REDD+), Forestry, Resilience
Africa I. Flores-Anderson headshot

Africa I. Flores-Anderson

Africa I. Flores-Anderson is a Research Scientist at the Earth System Science Center in the University of Alabama in Huntsville, with extensive experience in the applied use of satellite remote sensing for environmental monitoring. She has worked with SERVIR since 2008 starting in Central America, and currently leads the Land Cover Land Use Change and Ecosystems thematic portfolio of SERVIR-Global from the SERVIR Science Coordination Office at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. She is also the SERVIR-Amazonia Science Coordination Lead. Flores’ research focuses on the applied use of satellite remote sensing for forest monitoring, water quality, and ecological forecasting. She is the NASA representative for the SilvaCarbon initiative and is leading the collaboration between SERVIR and SilvaCarbon to create applied knowledge and capacity throughout the SERVIR network on the use of SAR for forest monitoring and biomass estimation.

Kelsey Herndon headshot

Kelsey E. Herndon

Kelsey E. Herndon is the Regional Science Associate for Amazonia at the SERVIR Science Coordination Office at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a remote sensing specialist and social scientist whose research interests include water resources, integrating remote sensing to address issues of natural resource management (specifically water scarcity), and mitigating local/regional conflicts over natural resources. Her research at SERVIR has focused on the long-term dynamics of ephemeral water bodies in the West African Sahel, and the implications of political, economic and cultural practices on their use. She is broadly interested in the role of formal and informal institutions in natural resource management, as well as in addressing the challenges that accompany incorporating various scales of social, cultural and economic data with remote sensing data. Kelsey has a M.S. in Earth System Science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Alabama.

Dr. Rajesh Bahadur Thapa headshot

Dr. Rajesh Bahadur Thapa

Dr. Rajesh Bahadur Thapa works at ICIMOD and leads the Capacity Building Programme of SERVIR-HKH, MENRIS and the Group on Land Use, Land Cover Change and Ecosystem Services, Geospatial Solutions. He has over twenty years of experience working in Asia, including in Nepal, Thailand and Japan. Prior to joining ICIMOD, he was a researcher at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) working for the Japanese Earth observing missions ALOS, ALOS-2, and PiSAR-L2. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. He has extensive expertise in SAR, optical and LiDAR remote sensing data processing and analysis for various applications. His research focus is on monitoring and assessment of terrestrial environments, including forest, agriculture, urban and disasters thematic areas, as well as the dissemination of Earth observation findings to policy makers, practitioners, university students and stakeholders through education, capacity building workshops, conferences and publications. He has conducted extensive research and fieldwork in Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam. He holds a PhD in Geo-environmental Science from University of Tsukuba (2009), a MSc in Remote Sensing and GIS from the Asian Institute of Technology (2003), and a master's degree in Geography from Tribhuvan University (1998).

Leah Kucera headshot

Leah Kucera

Leah Kucera is the Technical Reporting & Communications Lead for NASA SERVIR. Her interests are in the intersection of earth science and communications. She has worked on projects investigating soil development in inland sand dunes, as well as water quality and availability via remote sensing. She is passionate about applying graphic design principles to research products, and has collaborated with teams at the USDA and across NASA’s Applied Sciences Program.

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