SAR Use Cases from A to Z


SAR A to Z New Logo

Over the years, we have discussed how synthetic aperture radar (SAR) can provide valuable ground-truth information not available elsewhere.

In this blog, we provide a list of examples drawn from our previous work. For a refresher on SAR basics, check out this quick guide.

From Auto manufacturing trends to Zawiya crude inventories, the list illustrates SAR’s diverse range of applications, though it’s far from exhaustive. SAR’s full potential is being unlocked, aided by a transformation of the satellite industry.  

Here are 26 uses cases, from A to Z:

Auto manufacturing trends 

Monitoring dozens of vehicle plants around the world revealed the uneven recovery of the auto sector during the first few months of the coronavirus outbreak.  

Beirut port explosion 

An interactive map shows the scale of destruction after the August 5, 2020 explosion, as well as ensuing changes in the days and weeks that followed. 

Cold storage

Activity at the Port of Oakland’s refrigerated warehouses provided clues about China’s meat consumption trends and COVID’s impact on supply chains.

Dirty tanker rates

A top expert on shipping finance quantified the impact of crude inventories to predict whether the cost of transporting oil by tanker would subsequently rise or fall.

E-commerce warehouses

Amazon’s meteoric rise, benefiting from shifts in retail behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic, were apparent in the observed activity of the company’s fulfillment centers. 

Flood mapping

When Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas, the slow-moving storm caused severe devastation due to high winds and flooding.


Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam 

A megaproject being built on the Nile’s main tributary was already a source of regional tension before Ethiopia took the controversial step of filling the dam’s reservoir. 

Himalaya conflict 

Activity at military installations near the Galwan Valley suggested India and China were digging in their heels after the worst fighting in decades erupted along the disputed border. 

Idle locomotives 

A stretch of track in the Arizona desert where Union Pacific stores idle locomotives showed what a drop in freight demand can look like and foreshadow a recovery.

J.R. Davis

Activity at freight rail yards, including this one outside Sacramento, provide a barometer for the strength of the US economy. Kharg Island 

Iran’s crude inventories at its main export terminal climbed after the US reimposed oil sanctions.

Leading indicator 

Global crude inventories reached an inflection point that presaged a turnaround in oil prices a few weeks later.  

Mauritius oil spill 

The ability to detect the location of an oil spill off the coast of Mauritius after a ship ran aground aided clean-up efforts in the immediate aftermath. 

Mauritius oil spill

Negative oil prices 

One of the more bizarre moments in the history of the oil market occurred when a major storage hub nearing full capacity triggered such selling pressure that prices fell below zero dollars. 

Open-pit mine collapse 

A landslide at a Spanish copper mine caused production stoppages, with little information available about the extent of damages apart from what the owner reported.

Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) 

The US PMI, a closely-followed economic indicator, had a correlation of almost 73% with our US auto manufacturing activity index.

Quarterly reports 

Our auto manufacturing index for Tesla’s California manufacturing plant provides an early pulse on earnings reports, with a 70% correlation to quarterly production figures. 

Reservoir measurements 

Water levels at three of Iraq’s major reservoirs fluctuated dramatically over a 2-year period, a situation with grave humanitarian and security implications.  

Shale drilling precursor 

The amount of idle equipment kept at lots near US shale plays can pre-empt data on drilling activity trends.

Tianjin auto assembly plant 

Activity at the FAW-Volkswagen factory near Beijing returned a few months after a slowdown caused by coronavirus lockdowns, providing on-the-ground insights.  


Uncompleted wells 

US shale production follows repeatable patterns, from start to finish, which means through satellite imagery and machine learning you can tell when a well is completed and ready to start flowing.

Vegetation change 

The environmental destruction caused by a tailings dam collapse in Brazil could be seen by comparing the vegetation in the area over time. 

Wuhan North Railway Station 

The scene at Wuhan’s main freight station answered questions about life at Ground Zero of the coronavirus.

Xinjiang Province

Situated in northwest China, crude inventories here and at other inland locations were analyzed to better understand the country’s oil strategy and management. 

Yantai, Shandong Province 

Inventory builds in Shandong Province, home to China’s independent (“teapot”) refiners, were driven by weakening fuel demand. 

Zawiya, Libya 

The amount of oil in storage depends on the operational status of El Sharara, Libya’s largest oilfield connected by pipeline to this coastal city near Tripoli. 

If you’re interested in exploring how SAR can help you, contact us at




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