Understanding geological evolution of chalk cliffs and coastal processes using InSAR

Started: October 2017

Supervisor: Dr James Lawrence and Dr Richard Ghail


Space-borne Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry (InSAR) is increasingly used to monitor wide-area to local scale ground motions related to natural and anthropogenic geohazards with up to millimetre accuracy.
In the last 2 years the European Space Agency (ESA) has launched Sentinel 1A and Sentinel 1B which scan every 6 days, providing unparalleled and frequent data. These provide unprecedented sources of information that can be used for land motion monitoring, geological and topographic mapping to understand the evolution of the coastal zone.
Coastal cliffed environments are constantly under siege from littoral zone processes in this dynamic setting; the hazards associated with cliff instability and collapse represent real social and economic risks to the communities utilising these areas. The predicted impact of climate change will only increase the risks so understanding the coastal processing driving cliff instability can help coastal engineers establish how, when and where cliff collapses will occur.

Research Need

To investigate and understand how InSAR can be used to monitor processes affecting the coastal zone which ultimately lead to chalk cliff collapse.

Research Objective

Using Differential Interferometric SAR (DInSAR), from the new Sentinel-1 satellites, the objective of this study is to apply these techniques to chalk coastal cliffs and the broader coastal zone to better understand the coastal processes thus determining past, current and future deformation rates and the mechanisms leading to cliff collapse.


The data volume and processing required to achieve this objective for the chalk coastal cliffs will entail the development of new methodologies and the combining of several data sets. Utilising the technical expertise of Dr James Lawrence who has worked on the chalk and associated coastal zone management issues and Dr Richard Ghail whose research team focuses on measuring micro-scale deformation from DInSAR data. The focus for this proposed PhD will be the chalk cliffs of southern England, but ultimately, we would then be able to apply this methodology to other areas other interest.