Exciting new opportunities now exist to observe, monitor and quantify earth processes. These can include the analysis of field analogues in difficult and remote geographical locations, the monitoring of subsurface fluid injection and vertical and horizontal plate tectonic deformation to name but a few.

Earth observation of these phenomena is advancing rapidly with the deployment of remote technologies (drones and ROVs) and use of the latest satellite innovations. Synthetic Aperture Radar or SAR Interferometry (InSAR) provides a digital representation of any change in surface elevation. This can be used to assess millimetric scale deformation due to tectonic disturbances or movements of fluid (groundwater, oil and gas or carbon dioxide) often due to human extraction or injection.

Satellite technologies allied with surface stations provide the Ground Positioning System (GPS) inputs that permit multiple applications including defining horizontal plate motions or quantifying rates of coastal erosion. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth.

These techniques can be used in combination with other data recorded by airborne systems to generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. Two types of LIDAR are topographic and bathymetric. The former typically uses a near-infrared laser to map the land, while the latter uses water-penetrating green light to measure seafloor and riverbed elevations.

Use of these techniques within the Lyell Centre and in collaboration with the BGS and other observatory bodies would allow scientists to examine both natural and manmade environments with accuracy, precision, and flexibility.