Alaska Satellite Facility
Delivering Remote Sensing Data Since 1991

Earth's Frozen Reservoirs

Formed snowflake by snowflake, glaciers are major players in the shape and nature of Earth’s surface. They are essential frozen warehouses of 75 percent of Earth’s fresh water, and they have helped form the planet’s surface over time by gouging out valleys, creating lakes, and grinding rocks into dust. If all glacial ice on Earth were to melt, we would not recognize our shorelines; the melt water from Greenland alone would raise sea levels by 20 feet. Glaciers are sensitive indicators of long-term climate change.

Glaciers Through Remote Sensing 

Remote sensing is an important tool for studying glaciers. Researchers use synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which was used to create the majority of the imagery available in the ASF archive, to study glacial motion, surface elevation, size, and conditions within glaciers. SAR bounces a microwave radar signal off the Earth's surface to detect physical properties. Unlike optical technology, SAR can "see" through darkness, clouds, and rain.

Glacier Flow Speed See Glacier Speed

  • The first near-comprehensive dataset of wintertime glacier-flow speeds throughout Alaska—described in Burgess et al., Nature Communications, 2013—significantly advances understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the rapid glacier mass loss occurring in Alaska.

Q&A and Lesson Plans See Glacier Power

  • Developed as a middle school curriculum in 1997, Glacier Power has been updated and reshaped as a series of questions and answers as well as lesson plans for teachers.

International Polar Year  See Polar Year 07-08

  • The International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 was an intense, internationally coordinated campaign of research focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic. The IPY initiated a new era in polar science. It involved a wide range of research disciplines, including the social sciences. The IPY educated and involved the public, and it helped train the next generation of engineers, scientists, and leaders.
  • ASF was tasked with making its rich archive of imagery from the polar regions available to the science community for IPY. Satellite images over these remote regions allow researchers to make observations without facing extreme temperatures and with great cost savings.
UAVSAR reveals the Helheim Glacier in southeastern Greenland. The glacier flows from the Greenland ice sheet, through a narrow rift in the coastal mountain range, into a fjord. In this image, the fjord is on the right, packed with icebergs from the retreating glacier.  NASA 2009.UAVSAR reveals the Helheim Glacier in southeastern Greenland. The glacier flows from the Greenland ice sheet, through a narrow rift in the coastal mountain range, into a fjord. In this image, the fjord is on the right, packed with icebergs from the retreating glacier. NASA 2009.
Antarctica's Byrd Glacier flows into the Ross Ice Shelf in this RADARSAT-1 image. © CSA 1997 Antarctica's Byrd Glacier flows into the Ross Ice Shelf in this RADARSAT-1 image. © CSA 1997
Motion of the Kennicott Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, is revealed by this ALOS PALSAR interferogram. Motion of glaciers between repeat passes of a satellite causes decorrelation of the phase signal returned from the glacier ice. This decorrelation, or loss of coherence, can be used by scientists to map the terminus of the glacier and study how it changes through time. © JAXA/METI 2007; image credit Franz Meyer, UAFMotion of the Kennicott Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, is revealed by this ALOS PALSAR interferogram. Motion of glaciers between repeat passes of a satellite causes decorrelation of the phase signal returned from the glacier ice. This decorrelation, or loss of coherence, can be used by scientists to map the terminus of the glacier and study how it changes through time. © JAXA/METI 2007; image credit Franz Meyer, UAF
Get SAR Data

Get SAR Data

Select and download SAR data online using Vertex.

Use the ASF API for downloading SAR data via a command line.