Workshop: Using Satellites to Map Earthquake Hazards

Earlier this year scientists from the University of Leeds met with international colleagues to advance global earthquake hazard mapping capabilities.

The University of Leeds recently held a focused international workshop on using satellite radar to map global earthquake hazard. Scientists and remote sensing experts from Europe, China, and America met to discuss how best to exploit data from the European Space Agency’s new Sentinel-1 satellite, which is due to be launched in early 2014.

Interferogram of the 2003 Bam earthquake.  (ESA)

Interferogram showing the surface deformation after the 2003 Bam earthquake.

In earthquake-prone regions, the ground slowly and steadily warps in the time period between earthquakes at a rate of a few millimetres to a few centimetres per year. This tectonic warping or strain can be measured using a satellite radar technique known as InSAR and can tell scientists which regions worldwide are most at risk from earthquakes in future.

This technique has been developed over the last decade, but the upcoming launch of Sentinel-1, a new InSAR satellite, presents a major opportunity to map and understand global earthquake hazard better than ever before.

The workshop focused broadly on two themes: assessing the current methods and techniques used to map tectonic strain with InSAR, and discussing the best ways to combine these data with complementary GPS measurements of the same deformation.

The keynote speech at the workshop was given by Corné Kreemer from the University of Nevada, the lead scientist on the Global Strain Rate Model (GSRM) project. This project currently uses only GPS measurements to produce a global map of tectonic strain, and is a major input into the Global Earthquake Model (GEM), an international public-private partnership which aims to produce comprehensive maps of seismic hazard. A major outcome from the meeting was the development of plans to integrate InSAR data into GSRM, which will not only improve spatial resolution of the strain model, but will also improve geographical coverage in remote areas where it is difficult to make GPS measurements.


The Global Earthquake Model

GSRM presents a good opportunity for InSAR data to feed into GEM, and to therefore make the results of research into InSAR strain maps available to a wide variety of users, both inside and outside the scientific community.

Another outcome from the workshop was the compilation of a feedback document for the European Space Agency to help shape the Sentinel-1 mission plan. This is hoped to ensure that the new satellite’s ability to map earthquake hazard is maximised. In addition, the attending scientists made plans for further international collaboration, including between industry and academia. A particular focus for the planned collaboration is the testing and comparison of different methods for InSAR data processing and strain mapping.

The Leeds workshop was hosted at the School of Earth and Environment and was funded by the School’s Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS). 22 experts attended the meeting from the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, China, and the US, representing not just academia, but also the remote sensing and space industries, and the European Space Agency.


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