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 such as 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 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 is 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 of the system is currently being tested on an active landslide, the Salmon Falls Creek landslide in Idaho. Accuracy achieved in the field has been measured on the order of 0.3 centimeters. The fielded units will remain in the landslide for five months. Aggregation software for combining position results data to create three-dimensional vectors describing the sensor motions has been written and will be verified against GPS data after the five-month data collection period and checkout is completed.

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