ASF can help meet data needs

Olena Ellis

Nov. 23, 2021

“ASF means a great deal to this university. It’s a key part of what makes us one of the world’s leading research universities.”

— Chancellor Dan White, ASF Celebrates 30 Years of Operations Video 

It is hard not to notice the giant antennas that define the UAF skyline on the West Ridge. You may have wondered — or been asked by tourists — what role they play in the world of research at UAF. These antennas are part of the Alaska Satellite Facility and make many research projects possible.

Elvey Building
Photo by Rod Boyce, University of Alaska Fairbanks
The Elvey Building, with its iconic satellite dish atop.

ASF’s mission is to make remote-sensing data accessible. As part of this mission, ASF serves as the leading NASA ground station in Alaska and one of the world’s top university-operated ground stations. In addition, ASF is a NASA Distributed Active Archive Center, or DAAC, stewarding NASA’s archive of synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, data from a variety of satellites and aircraft. The ASF DAAC provides the data and associated specialty support services to a diverse user community worldwide in support of NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System.

ASF’s data discovery and data search application provide users easy access to SAR data, which is important because it allows us to see changes on Earth’s surface from far away, through clouds, and in day or night. This enables us to see things that we cannot see in an optical image or photograph. Radar penetrates through clouds and can often see small changes in topology, surface roughness or soil moisture.

SAR data is used by a wide variety of groups including scientists, researchers, students and government agencies. Whether you are a science type or just curious, SAR data images can inform you about soil moisture affecting food security; glaciers retreating, indicating global warming; land subsidence and declining groundwater; changes in the seasons of Arctic ice floes affected by global warming; and land deformation. With a little imagination, you can think of hundreds of applications.

SAR processing is computer-intensive, making producing analysis-ready SAR processing complicated to use and sometimes prohibitively expensive. A recent addition to Vertex, our name for the ASF data search, is a service for processing SAR imagery that solves many users’ problems by allowing them to request SAR processing on demand. These processing requests are picked up by automated systems, which handle the complexity of SAR processing for the user. ASF’s tools don't require users to have a lot of knowledge of SAR processing; users only need to submit the input data and set a few optional parameters if desired. With ASF’s new tools, analysis-ready products are just a few clicks away.

You can start your data search with Vertex here. You can find documentation here to support your data search and use of tools with Vertex or API.  If you have questions about ASF, Vertex or how to begin your search, please contact or 907-474-5041. 

Olena A. Ellis is a product owner at the Alaska Satellite Facility.