The NASA–ISRO Radar Satellite Mission, known as NISAR, is scheduled for launch in early 2024 and is a collaborative effort between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). NISAR is equipped with advanced radar systems that will scan nearly all of Earth’s land and ice surfaces twice every 12 days, providing valuable data on ecosystems, particularly forests and wetlands, crucial in regulating greenhouse gases and understanding their impact on global climate change.
Forests play a critical role in capturing and storing carbon, which helps mitigate climate change. NISAR’s radar technology allows it to examine forests in unprecedented detail. The radar can penetrate forest canopies, bouncing signals off trees and the ground. By analyzing these signals, researchers can estimate the density of forest cover in an area as small as a soccer field. Over successive orbital passes, it can track changes in forest cover, whether due to deforestation, disease, human activity, or fire. This capability is especially significant for monitoring vast, cloud-covered rainforests, like those in the Congo and Amazon basins, which lose wooded acres each year. By understanding and tracking deforestation, NISAR data could aid countries in shifting toward more sustainable forestry practices.
“The radar technology on NISAR will allow us to get a sweeping perspective of the planet in space and time,” said Paul Rosen, the NISAR project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It can give us a really reliable view of exactly how Earth’s land and ice are changing.”
“Globally, we do not understand well the carbon sources and sinks from terrestrial ecosystems, particularly from forests,” said Anup Das, an ecosystems scientist and co-lead of the ISRO NISAR science team. “So we expect that NISAR will greatly help address that, especially in less dense forests, which are more vulnerable to deforestation and degradation.”
Wetlands, which constitute a small portion of the Earth’s surface, contain a disproportionately large amount of carbon in their soils. They play a significant role in the release of greenhouse gases, particularly methane, when they flood, and carbon dioxide when they dry out. NISAR’s ability to monitor flooding in wetlands and track seasonal and annual variations, along with long-term trends, will help researchers better comprehend the impact of changing climate patterns and human activities on these ecosystems. By coupling wetland observations with data on greenhouse gas emissions, researchers can gain insights that inform the management of wetland ecosystems to reduce their impact on climate change.
In addition to ecosystem monitoring, NISAR will track land motion, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and subsidence and uplift. It will also monitor glacier and sea ice movements and melting.
MORE ABOUT THE MISSION
NISAR is an equal collaboration between NASA and ISRO and marks the first time the two agencies have cooperated on hardware development for an Earth-observing mission. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, leads the U.S. component of the project and is providing the mission’s L-band SAR. NASA is also providing the radar reflector antenna, the deployable boom, a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder, and payload data subsystem. ISRO’s U R Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, which is leading the ISRO component of the mission, is providing the spacecraft bus, the S-band SAR electronics, the launch vehicle, and associated launch services and satellite mission operations.