Short Range Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) for Environmental Monitoring

Leonardo UK
University of St Andrews

In the coming years, it is anticipated that we will witness an increasing incidence of disruptive climate events due to climate change.

For this reason, it is important to identify future capability that can perform a predictive role in identifying risks and preventing future accidents and environmental damage.

Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) is a radar technique used to create digital maps of terrain from a moving platform. Until now, this technology has been successfully deployed by Leonardo in the UK using airborne transport. However, Leonardo PhD student Mark Bell has identified an opportunity to transfer this proven capability to a ground-based vehicle.

Mark’s project will explore the feasibility of creating a method of surface change monitoring from a ground-based vehicle using a short-range InSAR system, as opposed to the traditional airborne methods, which have limitations when mapping certain assets like embankments.

He believes that there is the potential that this new approach could have great utility in a commercial transport setting, such as the UK’s rail network.

Transport agencies must undertake pre-emptive scientific monitoring of rail and road infrastructure to identify potentially hazardous failures. The UK’s rail network comprises currently comprises over 190,000 earthwork assets. There is the potential to use this new capability in a preventative capacity to avoid the hazards associated with the failure of any of these assets. These range from minor events such as train delays, to major accidents associated with land erosion on a rail network.

Mark believes it may be possible to offer an affordable solution that could provide a high level of information at a relatively low cost, to enhance current monitoring methods. This would mean that efforts wouldn’t just be focused on high-risk areas, but also lower risk areas which could develop over time over the entire network.

If successful, Mark’s system would enable transport agencies to perform routine monitoring of earthwork assets across their entire networks at a significantly lower cost than is currently possible. Using the expertise of the Millimetre Wave Group at the University of St Andrews, as well as the knowledge of Leonardo employees, this project could help to address a significant challenge faced by rail and transport agencies.


Mark has always been keen to pursue a career within applied physics and engineering. This led him to undertake an integrated Masters in Physics at the University of St Andrews. During his studies, he became involved with the Millimetre Wave Group, which introduced him to millimetre wave technology and radar engineering. This inspired his current PhD research, which he is undertaking in partnership with Leonardo in the UK.