Radar und optical remote sensing for analysis of geohazards

Our research is concerned with the utilization of radar and optical remote sensing data for understanding of processes related to natural and anthropogenic geohazards and the impact that they have on the human habitat. Hereby, we focus on earthquakes, landslides, glacier dynamics, permafrost and deformation fields related to anthropogenic activities. Methodological focus is on the development of automated methods for monitoring and assessment of changes related to these processes by integration of large quantities of multi-sensor remote sensing data, including both optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery.  Currently, our activities are focused on study areas in Germany, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Arctic.

In the field of radar remote sensing our research interest is to obtain high-resolution and high precision measurements of ground deformation associated with various processes caused by geohazards using differential interferometric synthetic aperture radar (DInSAR) techniques. The obtained results form the basis for subsequent interpretation and constraining of the underlying geoprocesses. In the field of optical remote sensing we deal with the development of automated methods for change detection based on multi-sensor time series data and the subsequent derivation of process information. Another research focus is the synergetic use of optical and radar data. 

In the field of remote sensing based analysis of geohazards we focus on the following processes:


One of the major objectives of our research is to obtain deformation fields associated with earthquake-cycle processes. To that end we combine and process SAR data in different orbits, modes and frequencies to detect displacements. By employing geophysical models and inversion techniques, we then try to understand source parameters of deep-seated processes in the earth that cause deformation.


Gravitational mass movements frequently occur in combination with other natural hazards, such as earthquakes and floods leading to severe losses of life and infrastructure worldwide. Objective and dynamic landslide hazard assessment requires profound knowledge about spatiotemporal occurrence of landslides. We use time series of optical satellite remote sensing data for automated detection of slope failures in order to reconstruct backdated landslide activity and to monitor ongoing process activity. High-resolution SAR data are used in combination with optical images for the detection of slope deformations which are related to the activation of mass movements.

Glacier dynamics

Since long-term changes in temperature and precipitation have direct effects on a glacier's mass balance, the variations in the kinematics of glaciers can be seen as a climate change indicator giving clues about the potential development. Remote sensing measurements offer unique capabilities to map and monitor kinematics of glaciers at an unprecedented level of detail never possible with direct measurements in the field.  Our remote sensing based investigations also contribute to a better understanding of hazardous Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) representing a high hazardous potential.

Link to project page: NatRiskChange


Remote sensing measurements with their large spatial coverage and high spatial resolution are able to monitor precisely seasonal and long-term changes due to thawing/freezing of the active layer in permafrost. This information can be used in combination with in-situ measurements for a better understanding of active processes taking place in permafrost and different factors that contribute to these processes.

Anthropogenic deformation

Surface deformations in urban and agricultural areas require special consideration, because they immediately affect the infrastructure and security of human beings. Remote sensing based measurements support characterization of surface related hazards posed by anthropogenic activities such as mining, groundwater extraction or fluid and gas injection and can help in surveillance and mitigation of undesired consequences. 


Profile photo of  Prof. Dr. Mahdi Motagh

Prof. Dr. Mahdi Motagh
Remote Sensing

Building A 17, room 20.24
14473 Potsdam
tel. +49 331 288-1197


Profile photo of  Dr. Sigrid Roessner

Dr. Sigrid Roessner
Remote Sensing

Building A 17, room 20.13
14473 Potsdam
tel. +49 331 288-1196