Dams exert a massive load on the ground underneath. Satellite monitoring can measure deformation in time to prevent failure
Sometimes solid ground isn’t as solid as it seems. This can come as particularly bad news when you’ve just built a whopping great dam on what you thought were strong foundations. On average ten significant dam failures occur globally every decade, often with devastating consequences downstream. Now satellite measurements are helping scientists to monitor dam movement before the damage is too great.
Dams play an essential role in many parts of the world, providing fresh water, flood control, and often hydropower. But the average dam exerts a massive load on the ground underneath it, and sometimes the ground below can’t cope. Monitoring dam movement using ground based or internal sensors tends to be labour-intensive and time consuming. Mahdi Motagh from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany, and colleagues have shown that satellites are capable of keeping a closer eye on dam deformation.