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Jet Propulsion Lab working on radar project to map movements in quake-devastated Haiti

February 9, 2010 |  7:00 am

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is working on an airborne-radar project to map subtle movements on the surface of Haiti following last month’s devastating earthquake.

JPL’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) system captured the accompanying composite image of Port au Prince and the surrounding area on Jan. 27. The radar unit was dispatched aboard a modified NASA Gulfstream III aircraft.

In the image, one section of the large fault responsible for the 7.0 earthquake that struck southern Haiti on Jan. 12 is clearly visible. The so-called Enriqullo-Plantain Garden fault extends from the western tip of Haiti into the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The image will be compared with later images to measure differences  on the Earth’s surface since the quake. The technique, known as interferometry, allows scientists to study pressures building up and being released along a fault line.

Satellite radar readings have shown that the earthquake ruptured a segment of the fault extending westward about 25 miles from the epicenter. The epicenter was situated about 15 miles west-southwest of Port au Prince.

Scientists hope to measure subtle changes in the earth following a quake. Eventually, experts hope such technology, employed with other techniques, can be useful in understanding the phenomena that trigger earthquakes and volcanoes.

“We’re hoping to get some idea of how the earth relaxes, or releases stress, after an earthquake,” said Dr. Scott Hensley, principal investigator for the aeral radar project. “This is just one tool to improve out understanding of the mechanisms in earthquakes and volcanoes.”

-- Patrick J. McDonnell