A new European satellite system can trace fault ruptures and the Earth’s crust’s movements during massive tremors like the earthquake that rocked Napa Valley, Calif., last month.
The Sentinel program uses an image analysis, called an interferogram, to trace the precise extent of a fault rupture, according to BBC News. The program can automate the process of analysis in a few days compared to the weeks or months it took before.
“The infrastructure is in place, and once we get to work with the quality of the data now coming through from Sentinel, we should be able to start turning out these interferograms very quickly,” John Elliot told the BBC News. Elliot is a post-doctoral researcher with the UK’s Centre of the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET).
The European Union launched the new multi-billion-euro Earth observation program in April aboard a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana. The Sentinel-1a captured images of how the Earth moved along West Napa Fault during the Aug. 24 earthquake in California’s wine country.
The satellite uses the analysis technique called Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry (InSAR). It collects radar images of the Earth’s movements that can be compared before and after an event like the earthquake. Scientists can use the new images to fill in the spaces not visible in physical rifts on the Earth’s surface.
The Sentinel had moved into its final operational orbit two weeks prior to the quake. This gave it time to capture images of the area before the earthquake to compare to after the quake hit.
The Napa earthquake was the biggest quake in the San Francisco Bay area since 1989. It registered a magnitude 6.0 compared to the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake 25 years ago.
More Sentinels will be sent into space over the next five years. It will produce eight terabytes of data daily “to detail the state of Earth’s land surface, its oceans and its atmosphere,” when fully operational, according to the BBC News.