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AAPG Bulletin


Use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for Geologic Reconnaissance in Arctic Regions: An Example from 
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Catherine L. Hanks2 and Richard M. Guritz3


Satellite-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) can provide an additional remote-sensing tool for regional geologic studies in arctic regions. Although SAR data do not yield direct information on rock type and do not replace traditional optical data, SAR data can provide useful geologic information in arctic regions where the stratigraphic column includes a wide range of lithologies, and bedrock exposures have been reduced to rubble by frost action. For example, in ERS-1 SAR data from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) of the northeastern Brooks Range, Alaska, carbonate and clastic rocks can give remarkably different radar responses on minimally reprocessed SAR data. The different radar response of different lithologies can be attributed to variations in surface roughness, specifically the size and angularity of scree in talus slopes. Additional postacquisition processing can both remove many of the negative terrain effects common in SAR data and enhance contrasts in bedrock lithology.

Because of this ability to discriminate between gross lithologic packages, the ERS-1 SAR data can be used to provide a regional view of ANWR and a detailed look at specific areas. A mosaic of ERS-1 SAR data from all of ANWR provides a synoptic

©Copyright 1997. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

1Manuscript received August 30, 1995; revised manuscript received March 11, 1996; final acceptance August 15, 1996.

2Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775.

3Alaska SAR Facility, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775.

This study was supported by sponsors of the Tectonics and Sedimentation Research Group of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, including ARCO Alaska, BP (Alaska), Chevron, Exxon, Japan National Oil Co., Mobil, Phillips, and UNOCAL. The Alaska SAR facility provided support for Richard Guritz and reprocessing of the ERS-1 SAR data. ERS-1 SAR data were provided by the European Space Agency under a research agreement with NASA. We would like to thank Steve Ahlgren, Lyn McNutt, and Ken Dean for stimulating discussions on SAR and its potential geologic applications in the Arctic, Wes Wallace for discussions on the regional geology of northeastern Alaska and weathering characteristics of the different stratigraphic units, and Wes Wallace, Ken Dean, Bill Stringer, Larry Lane, M. C. Erskine, Jr., H. R. Hopkins, and K. Biddle for helpful reviews of the manuscript. 

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