The application of millimetre wave radar to the study of volcano-glacier interactions and ice-ocean interactions in conditions of reduced visibility.

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


The overall aim of this PhD is to develop the use of millimetre wave radar for applications in geosciences, focusing on volcano-glacier and ice-ocean interactions.

Millimetre wave radar offers a key advantage over conventional optical survey methods in its ability to map terrain with high resolution whilst operating in conditions of reduced visibility. The AVTIS radars developed at University of St Andrews by Macfarlane & Robertson for volcano imaging [1] have demonstrated the potential for such instruments to map topographic change on volcanoes through complete obscuration (e.g. ash, clouds). In addition to topography, the millimetre wave radar can measure reflectivity and the velocity of moving targets, including high spatio-temporal resolution mapping of rainfall.

DEM extraction and the discrimination between terrain types based on reflectivity, or normalised radar cross section (NRCS), will be developed and refined for improved classification of different terrain surface types. These are central to the study of volcano-glacier interactions and related hazards, which are still poorly understood (e.g. the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption) as critical periods of activity during eruptions are often obscured. The AVTIS radar will elucidate changes in the volcano and glacier geometries, impacting eruption timing, magnitude or meltwater-induced mass movements e.g. lahars. The first case study will thus target ice-capped volcanoes (e.g. Iceland).

The calving of icebergs at the margins of glaciers and ice sheets is critical to our understanding of the near future contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet to sea level rise. Continuous monitoring of grounded ice margins under conditions of heavy cloud cover and precipitation is thus needed, where conventional techniques (LIDAR and time lapse photography) are rendered useless. The ability of the millimetre wave radar to generate DEMs under these conditions will be invaluable. The second stage of the project will thus be glacier mapping with the AVTIS-2 radar, which has never previously been reported in the literature.

The project will follow broadly this structure:

- Develop improved DEM extraction methodology using existing AVTIS data. Initially using LIDAR data from a coincident survey of a local quarry as ground truth, methods for DEM surface extraction from the AVTIS radar data sensing volume will be investigated and refined. These new methods will be evaluated against existing AVTIS datasets (mainly data from the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat). Additional data for algorithm development can also be acquired locally.

- Develop terrain classification algorithms based on analysis of existing AVTIS data and rough surface scattering models, tested on the extensive AVTIS data set, which already includes volcanic terrain and locally acquired data e.g. Rest and Be Thankful, Argyll; Lomond Hills Fife; Old Man of Storr, Skye.

- Gather millimetre wave NRCS data of glacier ice as function of incidence angle using the AVTIS-2 radar on field campaign to e.g. Iceland and develop an empirical model suitable for radar performance prediction.

- Collect the first mm-wave radar DEMs of glaciers using AVTIS-2 and quantitatively compare with contemporaneously acquired lidar (terrestrial laser scanned) DEMs.

- Explore the new interpretational potential of the instrument in terms of volcano-ice and ice-ocean interactions

[1] Macfarlane, D.G., Odbert, H.M., Robertson, D.A., James, M.R., Pinkerton, H. & Wadge, G., "Topographic and thermal mapping of volcanic terrain using the AVTIS ground based 94GHz dual-mode radar/radiometric imager", IEEE Trans. Geosci. Rem. Sens., 51, (1), 2013, pp. 455 - 472.


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