UI researchers use satellite data and GPS to examine earthquakes


A satellite radar image of a 2012 earthquake in California. The rainbow patterns indicates areas where the earthquake deformed the earth’s surface (European Space Agency/Iowa Now)

Nick Fetty | March 26, 2015

Researchers at the University of Iowa teamed up with the United States Geological Survey to study ways that satellite data and GPS can be used to better respond to earthquakes within 24 hours of them happening.

William Barnhart – an assistant professor in Earth and Environmental Sciences – along with a team of researchers created a three-dimensional map using GPS and satellite measurements to study how the ground was impacted by a 6.0-magnitude earthquake that occurred in South Napa, California on August 24, 2014. The map did not use typical instruments such as seismometers which often cannot offer the same level of detail as Barnhart’s method.

“By having the 3D knowledge of the earthquake itself, we can make predictions of the ground shaking, without instruments to record that ground shaking, and then can make estimates of what the human and infrastructure impacts will be— in terms of both fatalities and dollars,” Barnhart said in an interview with Iowa Now.

Barnhart and his team’s research can be especially beneficial for improving response times in countries in the developing world, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives. The use of satellite technology allows researchers to study the aftermath of earthquakes without needing to travel to disaster area.

The study – entitled “Geodetic Constraints on the 2014 M 6.0 South Napa Earthquake” – was published in the March/April edition of Seismological Research Letters.

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