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U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2005-3025

Monitoring Ground Deformation from Space

Published 2005
Version 1.0

Rosalind L. Helz


Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are using an exciting new tool to detect, measure, and monitor subtle changes in the shape or relative position of the Earth’s surface. By bouncing signals from a radar satellite off the ground in successive orbits and looking at the differences between the images, interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) can detect small differences in the distance between its position and the ground as the land surface moves--whether up, down, or sideways. InSAR shows spatial patterns of deformation in remarkable detail and, in combination with ground-based monitoring, gives USGS scientists unprecedented insight into a wide range of earth science processes.


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