As with all remote sensing systems, the viewing geometry of a radar results in certain geometric distortions on the resultant imagery. However, there are key differences for radar imagery which are due to the side-looking viewing geometry, and the fact that the radar is fundamentally a distance measuring device (i.e. measuring range). Slant-range scale distortion occurs because the radar is measuring the distance to features in slant-range rather than the true horizontal distance along the ground. This results in a varying image scale, moving from near to far range. Although targets A1 and B1 are the same size on the ground, their apparent dimensions in slant range (A2 and B2) are different. This causes targets in the near range to appear compressed relative to the far range. Using trigonometry, ground-range distance can be calculated from the slant-range distance and platform altitude to convert to the proper ground-range format.
This conversion comparison shows a radar image in slant-range display (top) where the fields and the road in the near range on the left side of the image are compressed, and the same image converted to ground-range display (bottom) with the features in their proper geometric shape.
Similar to the distortions encountered when using cameras and scanners, radar images are also subject to geometric distortions due to relief displacement. As with scanner imagery, this displacement is one-dimensional and occurs perpendicular to the flight path. However, the displacement is reversed with targets being displaced towards, instead of away from the sensor. Radar foreshortening and layover are two consequences which result from relief displacement.
When the radar beam reaches the base of a tall feature tilted towards the radar (e.g. a mountain) before it reaches the top foreshortening will occur. Again, because the radar measures distance in slant-range, the slope (A to B) will appear compressed and the length of the slope will be represented incorrectly (A' to B'). Depending on the angle of the hillside or mountain slope in relation to the incidence angle of the radar beam, the severity of foreshortening will vary. Maximum foreshortening occurs when the radar beam is perpendicular to the slope such that the slope, the base, and the top are imaged simultaneously (C to D). The length of the slope will be reduced to an effective length of zero in slant range (C'D'). The figure below shows a radar image of steep mountainous terrain with severe foreshortening effects. The foreshortened slopes appear as bright features on the image.
Layover occurs when the radar beam reaches the top of a tall feature (B) before it reaches the base (A). The return signal from the top of the feature will be received before the signal from the bottom. As a result, the top of the feature is displaced towards the radar from its true position on the ground, and "lays over" the base of the feature (B' to A'). Layover effects on a radar image look very similar to effects due to foreshortening. As with foreshortening, layover is most severe for small incidence angles, at the near range of a swath, and in mountainous terrain.
Both foreshortening and layover result in radar shadow. Radar shadow occurs when the radar beam is not able to illuminate the ground surface. Shadows occur in the down range dimension (i.e. towards the far range), behind vertical features or slopes with steep sides. Since the radar beam does not illuminate the surface, shadowed regions will appear dark on an image as no energy is available to be backscattered. As incidence angle increases from near to far range, so will shadow effects as the radar beam looks more and more obliquely at the surface. This image illustrates radar shadow effects on the right side of the hillsides which are being illuminated from the left.
Red surfaces are completely in shadow. Black areas in image are shadowed and contain no information.
Radar shadow effects
Did you know?
"...look to the left, look to the right, stand up, sit down..."
...although a radar's side-looking geometry can result in several image effects such as foreshortening, layover, and shadow, this geometry is exactly what makes radar so useful for terrain analysis. These effects, if not too severe, actually enhance the visual appearance of relief and terrain structure, making radar imagery excellent for applications such as topographic mapping and identifying geologic structure.