RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Early next year, a new mission to space will help keep an eye on forests and wetlands around the world.

NISAR is a joint mission with NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) It will contain two radar systems, that once in orbit, will scan the Earth’s surface twice every 12 days.

So how does it work? “Similar” to a weather radar, these radars will illuminate the ground with microwaves and then watch for how those microwaves scatter off the ground.

“It’s a radar, but we can turn the data from this radar into pictures that aren’t all that different looking than when you look at other images of the earth from space,” explains Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Bruce Chapman. He says that’s how NISAR can see through clouds or haze that would otherwise block a typical view, making it better than just a camera.

Pictured in this artist’s concept, NISAR, short for NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar, marks the first time the U.S. and Indian space agencies have cooperated on hardware development for an Earth-observing mission. Its two radar systems will monitor change in nearly all of Earth’s land and ice surfaces twice every 12 days.
(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Because we can see through clouds, we can monitor things on a very regular basis, which is difficult with the camera type instrument because of things like clouds and et cetera,” he said.

And because these radars will help scientists keep an eye on the same places all over the world “regularly”, it will be easier to see how ecosystems like forests and wetlands change over time.

Wetlands in particular are the largest source of methane, but when they dry out, they produce carbon dioxide, which adds to our carbon cycle and changes an important habitat.

“They’re very important ecosystem habitats, a lot of animals live in wetlands and if the wetlands are changing, that’s going to change where the animals live also,” Chapman said.

As the data starts to flow in, there’s so much more to learn about the world around us. To learn in more detail about the NISAR mission, and the data they will collect, click here.