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Tom Ingleby, SatSense’s Earth Observation Specialist explores how satellite imagery can be used to monitor ground movements in megaprojects.
InSAR is increasingly being used by geotechnical engineers as a remote sensing technique for assessing and monitoring movement over areas from specific locations (a property) through to entire networks. Subsidence can be measured using historic satellite radar data covering previous decades, and then monitored throughout the duration of a project and beyond.
InSAR stands for interferometric synthetic aperture radar and is a highly effective way to measure changes in land surface altitude. Imagery is produced by illuminating a target area using radar and recording the reflected signal. This means the technique can work in any weather conditions, night or day. It is an accurate way of detecting ground movements and can be scaled from single pixels (typically 3m x 3m or 4m x 14m) to entire countries.
Innovative technology companies are able to analyse InSAR data to create insight into the risk of ground movement in their chosen location. The time series of data can be automatically assessed for thresholds of acceleration, range, absolute movement and more being exceeded.
Having access to this data means engineers and project managers can identify potential issues on a project and take action before significant damage, costs or delays are incurred. The use of satellite data also means information is readily available. No trips to site are required. Data can be pre-processed, so engineers have quick or instant delivery of the information, and timely alerting to any notable changes - meaning desk studies can be completed quicker and more cost effectively, and action can be taken sooner rather than later.
This data is not only valuable during the construction phase - all mega projects are monitored in some form during their operational phase to ensure they remain in good order, do not develop catastrophic structural problems, and maintain public safety. Continuous monitoring using InSAR can be used once the structure is in place to detect any deformations that could be harmful to the structure, without the need for someone to visit the site manually and conduct tests.
An understanding of where subsidence has occurred previously and where active movements are occurring is intrinsic to any assessment of ground movement hazards. The use of InSAR offers the capability to carry out this assessment at scale.
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