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

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

Inclusive Dates:  03/28/06 – 03/01/09

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 the 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 demonstrated 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 project combined the evolving techniques in inexpensive radio systems with exploration tools and techniques required for natural hazards characterization. Development and evaluation of prototype radio nodes has provided 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 has wide application to areas outside earth processes.

Accomplishments -  An active landslide, the Salmon Falls Creek landslide in Idaho, was the system measured. Accuracy achieved in the field has been measured on the order of 0.3 centimeters. Aggregation software for combining position results data to create three-dimensional vectors describing the sensor motions was written and used to verify the data collected by the prototype against GPS data.

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