A Novel Approach to Monitoring Natural Hazards in All Terrain, 10-R9613

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Principal Investigators
Ben A. Abbott
David A. Ferrill
Alan P. Morris

Inclusive Dates:  03/28/06 – Current

Background - Prediction, assessment, and mitigation of surface-affecting natural hazard processes such as landslides, avalanches, earthquakes, and floods call upon geoscientists to rapidly deploy instruments and accurately characterize these earth processes, often with little lead time and under dangerous working conditions. Affected areas may have heavy tree canopies, or high atmospheric dust loads (volcanic eruptions), precluding the use of traditional location techniques like Global Positioning System (GPS). Recent landslides in California and the Philippines, glacier surges in Antarctica and Greenland, and levee breaks in Louisiana emphasize both the time constraints and urgency of monitoring and the dynamic and life-threatening nature of earth processes. The proliferation of inexpensive radio systems provides a technology that has the potential to redefine the approach to rapid characterization of hazardous earth processes. This research demonstrates an inexpensive, cooperative, radar-like technology for relative distance measurement between intelligent radio nodes.

Approach - Large quantities of new, small wireless sensor nodes can be very affordable. The fusion of this new technology with tried and true technologies such as high-precision GPS, and other developing technologies such as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), provides opportunities to gather more data, more rapidly, in more hostile environments than ever before. The core innovation of the research focuses on applying radar-like precise ranging deployed on wireless sensor nodes to landslide monitoring.

This joint (Automation and Data Systems and Geosciences and Engineering Divisions) internal research and development (IR&D) program is combining the evolving techniques in inexpensive radio systems with exploration tools and techniques required for natural hazards characterization. Development and evaluation of prototype radio nodes are providing leverage and compelling support for adoption of this novel approach to earth process hazard assessment and mitigation. Further, the experience gained in the use of cooperative, radar-like location technology will have wide applications to areas outside earth processes.

Accomplishments - A prototype (larger) version of the circuitry supporting the full approach (including the sensor node control and auto-calibration) has been assembled and tested in a laboratory. The prototyping effort is providing direction concerning the full fabrication required for the units that will be fielded. Results in the laboratory tests are currently exceeding the most credible research claims by an order of magnitude. Subsequent to refinement and verification of the method utilizing the large prototype, a detailed schematic, parts list, and circuit board layout were developed, and the unit is currently in fabrication. Packaging of the unit for fielding has been chosen to use typical “green” border stakes and a plastic component box that will be buried. The antennas will be held within a plastic tube attached to the top of the stake. Initial field tests will begin shortly after fabrication and checkout are completed.

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