Making Satellite Volcano Deformation Analysis Accessible

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Earth Sciences


This project aims to improve the ability of ODA countries to forecast and mitigate volcanic activity, by using satellite data to improve volcano monitoring. According to the UN Global Assessment of Risk, over 90% of the total global volcanic threat is in developing countries, but 25% to 45% of historically active volcanoes were found to have no ground-based monitoring. Space-based methods offer a means to bridge the monitoring gap. Our survey of ODA volcano observatories identified two main activities that would improve uptake: 1) accessible automatic processing and 2) training in interpretation. This proposal brings together NERC-funded research on the application of Earth Observation data to volcanic processes with EPSRC-funded research in image analysis to develop automated processing and analysis systems. Our project partners, with whom we have long-standing relationships, represent an LDC (Ethiopia) and an UMIC (Ecuador) and will work with us to develop an accessible web platform to disseminate appropriate products. The proposal consists of three objectives: 1) to develop a suitable web platform to disseminate automatically processed satellite imagery; 2) to build capacity in ODA countries to access and interpret satellite data and 3) implement and refine algorithms to flag volcanic unrest and develop an alert system. The products will be developed with our project partners and launched globally at the Cities on Volcanoes conference 2020.

Planned Impact

This proposal is applicable to UN Sustainable Development goals 1, 11, 13 and 17 with the aims of reducing vulnerability, deaths and economic losses, increasing capacity and resilience through disasters. The project also addresses knowledge sharing and cooperation for access to science and technology, and increasing scientific capacity, particularly in developing countries.
Target 1.5 "build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to ... economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters"
Target 11.5 "significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses ... caused by disasters ..."
Target 13.1 "Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity ... natural disasters in all countries"
Target 17.6 "Enhance ... international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing, ... including through ... through a global technology facilitation mechanism"

Improved volcano monitoring increases the resilience of communities and countries reduces disaster-related socio-economic losses. Forecasts of eruptive activity can be improved by stronger monitoring capacity, and in turn, mitigation measures and exclusion zones can be put in place and lives saved. Economic losses may be reduced as unnecessarily premature or extended evacuations are avoided. However, most volcanoes lack sufficient ground-based monitoring, particularly in ODA countries. We seek to equalise access to satellite data globally, permitting un- or under- resourced observatories to measure processes that may otherwise go undetected, putting them on a par with well-resourced observatories, more typical of developed countries.
The planned activities are designed to increase uptake of satellite data for decision making during volcanic crises. They have been co-designed a) directly with our project partners in Ethiopia and Ecuador and b) through a survey of needs distributed to all ODA countries with volcano observatories and c) incorporating many years experience working in ODA countries. The outputs of the project will include a sustainable and accessible website for delivering near-real time and background satellite deformation imagery including 1) background deformation monitoring data for all ODA volcanoes, including automated annual summaries. 2) a near-real time system for monitoring deformation during volcanic unrest and eruption. and 3) automated alerts to flag unusual signals that have been identified as potential deformation.

For our project partners (IGSSA, Ethiopia and IG-EPN Ecuador), direct outcomes will be:
- co-produced pilot studies of background and current volcanic activity using system test data.
- increased capacity in the analysis and interpretation of satellite deformation through training of embedded individuals.
- experience developing automated analysis systems.
- training and demonstration materials adapted to local needs.

For decision makers in ODA countries around the world (e.g. volcano observatories, local authorities, civil defence and local communities), outcomes will include increased capacity to incorporate satellite monitoring into decision making through
- Increased awareness of the capabilities of satellite monitoring
- Improved access to satellite data through an accessible and sustainable system.
- Accessible tools for interpreting satellite imagery without relying on international partnerships (e.g. automated flagging and decision trees).


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Description IG-EPN 
Organisation The Geophysical Institute of the National Polytechnic School of Ecuador (IG-EPN)
Country Ecuador 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contribution of satellite data and interpretations to monitoring volcanoes in unrest and eruption, including Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, Reventador and Chiles Cerro-Negro. PDRA spent 1 month on secondment. Co-hosting a short course.
Collaborator Contribution Data sharing, particularly of ground-based deformation measurements. Co-hosting a short course.
Impact Joint publications. Research used to inform alert levels with direct impact on policy, society and economics.
Start Year 2013
Description IGSSA 
Organisation Addis Ababa University
Department Institute of Geophysics, Space Science and Astronomy (IGSSA)
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-organised field programmes and import/export of equipment. Spent 1 month teaching a course on InSAR for MSc students. Co-supervised a MSc research project. Joint interpretation of scientific results
Collaborator Contribution Co-organised field programmes and import/export of equipment. Local knowledge (including both scientific knowledge of rift tectonics, techniques such as GPS and logistics) Joint interpretation of scientific results
Impact Joint publications Joint funding
Start Year 2012