Research tracks quakes with radar

The Energy Department has made an award for innovative research to Vexcel Corp., which will use radar imagery to visualize and analyze ground motion during a seismic event.

Under the Phase I Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award, the research will cross into "uncharted territory" to take "a 100-mile-square snapshot of a major earthquake as it flows across the Earth's surface," said Rob Fatland, a research scientist at Vexcel.

The research will use dynamic Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar. IfSAR is an effort to process high-resolution elevation data that has been produced through radar interferometry, which compares radar images taken at slightly different locations to obtain elevation or surface-change information.

The research will be divided into three successive components:

* First, Earth observation data collected by Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites during the past 10 years will be searched for images of earthquakes in progress.

* Then, Vexcel scientists will simulate SAR imaging of earthquakes to demonstrate that IfSAR can detect ground motion due to traveling seismic waves.

* Finally, researchers will investigate how other types of data, such as seismology readings, can be used in concert with IfSAR to produce useful geophysical results.

One possible use of dynamic IfSAR is to monitor earthquakes. A greater understanding of such seismic events will assist in determining stable locations for the secure long-term storage of nuclear waste. The technique can also be used to detect the detonation of nuclear weapons for enforcement of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, according to the company.

Vexcel would not disclose terms of the SBIR contract, which was announced Sept. 24. The company's other federal customers include the Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and NASA, where it is developing software and hardware tools for data processing, according to a company spokeswoman.


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