Exploring DInSAR Capabilities Through Morocco’s Earthquake

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The earthquake that struck Morocco in September 2023 is a reminder of Earth’s dynamic nature that can have devastating consequences for people and their communities.

One way to mitigate the extent of these disasters is through early warning systems, particularly when alerts arrive with sufficient advance notice.

In this article, we discuss how a remote sensing technique can be used to detect ground deformation over large areas. That technique is called Differential Interferometric SAR (DInSAR).

How does this work?

SAR imagery includes amplitude and phase information, where amplitude represents the strength of the signal reflected by a ground target and phase provides a fine measurement of the distance from the radar to a ground target.

DInSAR is used to observe the differences in phase between two images, allowing physical ground movement changes to be measured over a period of time. DInSAR has emerged as a powerful tool for monitoring ground movements with precision.

Reverse-fault uplift

The September 2023 earthquake near Marrakech showcased a unique interplay of tectonic forces, particularly demonstrating a “reverse-fault” action. DInSAR processing allowed us to delve deeper and understand the uplift through satellite-based analytics.

Using DInSAR, Ursa Space captured the subtle yet significant changes in ground elevation caused by the seismic event. The observed data revealed a compelling narrative of tectonic movement, where the Moroccan microplate slipped beneath the Iberian microplate. This motion resulted in a conspicuous uplift, depicted in vibrant yellow hues in the imagery, while simultaneously showcasing subsidence in areas denoted by blackspots.

The DInSAR measurement results were striking. The tool documented a maximum uplift of approximately 5 inches and a maximum subsidence of 2.75 inches. These figures closely aligned with the widely reported ground displacement of 6 inches, validating the efficacy of DInSAR in quantifying geophysical phenomena with remarkable accuracy.

The advantage of DInSAR lies not only in its ability to capture the aftermath of seismic events but also in its capacity to reveal intricate details about the underlying processes. By analyzing the interferometric phase of SAR signals, we get a clearer picture of the subtle ground deformations that occur over time. This capability offers invaluable insights into fault movements, volcanic activities, land subsidence, and other geophysical phenomena, paving the way for enhanced hazard assessment and mitigation strategies.

Moreover, DInSAR’s non-invasive nature combined with Ursa Space’s global satellite coverage make this an indispensable workflow for monitoring remote and inaccessible regions. This continuous monitoring capability enables real-time assessment of dynamic geological processes, facilitating early warning systems and informing decision-making in disaster management.

As we continue to experiment with DInSAR and other remote sensing techniques, we gain invaluable insights using predictive tools that have the potential to safeguard lives and livelihoods.

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