NASA aims to use its new tracking technology to monitor earthquakes and volcanoes from space. The technology makes use of satellites to detect deformations on the ground.
In 2018, a research team observed molten lava from an airplane to which NASA’s new instrument was connected. The instrument was designed to detect swelling and deflection of volcanoes. The team flew over the Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to show how the instrument could be used in the future.
“The CubeSat Imaging Radar for Earth Sciences, or CIRES, can help decision-makers and emergency managers obtain observations sooner after a hazardous event so that they are better prepared to deal with disaster relief,” said principal investigator Lauren Wye.
By creating a map of changes in soil level, the new technology can assist in detecting ground movements before, during, and after earthquakes and volcanic activity.
The development of the instrument was recently completed at SRI International. It is able to detect those changes which are not visible to the human eye.
NASA explains how it works: “CIRES is equipped with an S-band Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR). The S-band radar is able to penetrate through vegetation and reach the ground. CIRES takes two radar images of a specific area from approximately the same position in space at two different times and then processes the two images to determine the difference between them.”
A group of InSAR satellites could work in conjunction with NASA’s first dedicated InSAT satellite (NASA-ISRO SAR). “Multiple small satellites could collect frequent data over rapidly evolving processes, like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides, adding to NISAR’s systematic global data,” they said.
Usually, ground deformation is monitored via sensors on the land and GPS. InSAR detection’s are complementary to this and can indicate where land sensors should be positioned.
“InSAR data have revolutionised how we look at earthquakes and volcanoes,” said Kyle Anderson, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, to NASA.
Image: Twitter / NASA Goddard