EU innovative radar imaging system provides early warning of volcanic activity

March 13, 2003

Brussels, 12 March 2003

The Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) is to use its innovative LISA (Linear Synthetic Aperture) high-resolution radar system to monitor movements on Italy's Mount Stromboli volcano. Following recent increases in volcanic activity, the Italian Department of Civil Protection called on the JRC facility in Ispra, Italy to measure the ground movement on Stromboli's slopes, providing early warning for emergency action. Stromboli's volcano erupted on December 30, 2002, and again in January 2003, creating devastating sea tidal waves.

"To foster European capability in civil protection, we have to foster research and technological applications to improve our monitoring and early warning tools", said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "Acquiring accurate scientific data from active volcanoes has posed major problems for years. The great advantage of the technology in the JRC's LISA radar imaging system is its ability to monitor ground displacements in real time. We shall be ready to inform Italian authorities quickly and alert local populations. And we will able to apply this system elsewhere."

Other benefits of radar imaging include remote observation, day and night operability, and maximum flexibility in terms of viewing capacity and frequency of observation. The LISA system uses high-resolution interferometric synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to detect changes in the large structures of the volcano. Specially developed software helps scientists on the ground control, process and analyse the collected data. LISA units are able to perform measurements on areas extending from a few metres to a few kilometres to provide close-up views of sections of particular interest. This application forms part of a range of technologies deployed for environmental and risk monitoring in Europe, as part of the GMES (Global Monitoring of Environment and Security) initiative.

Critical alert system

The Stromboli system will form part of a critical alert system warning Italian authorities when there is a risk of landslides from the walls of the volcano. Through LISA's early warnings of volanic activity, authorities will gain valuable time to put an emergency plan into place. LISA is already installed on the volcano and the on-site team is in the process of adjusting and testing the system.

LISA has already proved its operational reliability on many occasions, altogether 16 times in 10 different locations. Applications include:

  • Deformation monitoring in dams, bridges, etc.;

  • Ground-displacement observation, such as landslides, subsidence and volcanic activities;

  • Displacement monitoring in historical monuments;

  • Monitoring landslides; and

  • Digital elevation models of the area under observation.
In continuous eruption

The Aeolian Island of Stromboli is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, with almost continuous eruptions for 2000 years. Recent intensification in activity has caused concern. After a period of relative quiet, powerful eruptions in November 2002 culminated in an explosion where material was ejected 200 metres above the volcano's Northeastern crater. This explosion opened a fissure from which lava flowed, eventually causing a landslide on 30 December that reached the sea and created tidal waves several meters high, affecting the villages of Stromboli and Ginostra, injuring several people as well as damaging buildings and boats. The volcano erupted again in January this year, leading to lava flow from two vents and causing more small landslides.

More information about LISA may be found at:

DN: IP/03/361 Date: 12/03/2003

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