Commission Grantee Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL)

JPL Uses NASA Technology to Map Earthquake Faults from Space


JPL, a research facility of NASA operated by Caltech, has been working with the California Seismic Safety Commission to identify NASA technologies that can be used to increase monitoring, safety, and recovery from earthquakes. One of the key sets of technologies is to use aerial radar imaging of Earth, from satellite and aircraft, to help understand and respond to major earthquakes. The JPL report identifies several areas where their technology can help the people of California.

Space-based imaging uses satellites with multiple kinds of radars to map the Earth. A specific kind of radar, called Synthetic Aperture Radar or SAR, can measure the height of the ground and using multiple before and after passes, and identify where there has been earth movement and how much. Space-based SAR can cover a 100km-wide band, and quickly. Once identified from space, airborne SAR, with higher resolution and ease of deployment relative to the satellite based systems, can then take measurements of target areas identified by the satellites to help responders know where faults have slipped and identify potential issues.

This technology has been used several times in recent years, assisting in the Napa response and La Habra earthquakes. JPL and Caltech developed and are enhancing the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) Center for Natural Hazards and it was this center that provided the data after the Napa earthquake in 2014. The Center is now active and providing rapid response data to the user community.  The quote below, from the Director of the AEM in Mexico, reflects the impact of ARIA’s work after the 2017 earthquakes in Mexico.

“Your valuable contribution through NASA Earth Science Disasters Program, made it possible – in collaboration with other governments of Mexico – to take the appropriate decisions for mapping damage, rescuing and eventually recovery of the damage, as well as to address and inform to the population about the affected zones and the areas prone to further risk.” Francisco Javier Mendieta Jimenez, Director, AEM After the M7.1 Central Mexico Earthquake