Due to its all time capability, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) remote sensing plays an important role in Earth observation. The ability to interpret the data is limited, even for experts, as the human eye is not familiar to the impact of distance-dependent imaging, signal intensities detected in the radar spectrum as well as image characteristics related to speckle or steps of post-processing. This paper is concerned with machine learning for SAR-to-optical image-to-image translation in order to support the interpretation and analysis of original data. A conditional adversarial network is adopted and optimized in order to generate alternative SAR image representations based on the combination of SAR images (starting point) and optical images (reference) for training. Following this strategy, the focus is set on the value of empirical knowledge for initialization, the impact of results on follow-up applications, and the discussion of opportunities/drawbacks related to this application of deep learning. Case study results are shown for high resolution (SAR: TerraSAR-X, optical: ALOS PRISM) and low resolution (Sentinel-1 and -2) data. The properties of the alternative image representation are evaluated based on feedback from experts in SAR remote sensing and the impact on road extraction as an example for follow-up applications. The results provide the basis to explain fundamental limitations affecting the SAR-to-optical image translation idea but also indicate benefits from alternative SAR image representations.
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