Earth Imaging Journal: Remote Sensing, Satellite Images, Satellite Imagery
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These satellite images show subsidence along the Val Nalps in Switzerland. Results on the left are obtained from ERS-1 and ERS-2 data from 1992 to 2000; the results on the right are from Envisat data from 2004–2010.

These satellite images show subsidence along the Val Nalps in Switzerland. Results on the left are obtained from ERS-1 and ERS-2 data from 1992 to 2000; the results on the right are from Envisat data from 2004–2010.

As shown by the March 2014 Oso, Wash., mudslide that killed 41 people, subsidence, rockfalls and landslides can cause devastating human and economic consequences. But satellites can help.

Traditional monitoring, such as photographic mapping to measure changes in the landscape, works well for specific locations but is labor intensive and costly. Now the European Space Agency (ESA) has looked at using satellites to watch for hazards across broad areas that could affect road and rail networks. The outcome is so promising that the resulting monitoring services continue to be developed by companies involved in two projects.

One promising approach is to use maps produced from radar satellites to identify potentially hazardous slopes, followed by repeat monitoring at ground level. By taking regular observations, displacements across large areas can be measured with millimeter accuracy. Any sudden changes in motion indicate a potentially high-risk situation and invite closer scrutiny.

“There is no single way of solving the problem of monitoring natural hazards,” says ESA’s Rob Postema, “but these two projects demonstrate how combining techniques results in a powerful toolset for tackling a whole range of geological challenges.”

Image courtesy of MATIST.

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