Nav: Home

New radar system could lead to better defenses against avalanches

October 04, 2016

A new radar-based imaging system with an unprecedented ability to penetrate snow-powder clouds could lead to greater avalanche protection for towns, buildings, roads and railways.

Successfully installed and tested in the Swiss Alps last winter, the system produces 3D images that reveal how snow flows deep inside avalanches. This new data will strengthen computer models that are used not only to understand the behaviour of avalanches but also to pinpoint ways of building better defences against them.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Advanced MIMO Radar Development for Geophysical Imaging Applications system was developed by a team from University College London (UCL), Durham University and Sheffield University, working in close collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF).

Project leader Professor Paul Brennan, of UCL, says: "It's not possible to predict precisely when avalanches will happen, but our radar imaging system aids understanding of how they behave when they do occur. By penetrating the powder cloud, it can observe the nature and direction of the flow of the 90 per cent of snow that would otherwise remain invisible."

As well as killing more than 150 people worldwide each year, avalanches cause substantial damage and disruption. A range of anti-avalanche protection measures are available, from snow fences, nets, dams and barriers to tree-planting, reinforcement of buildings and the laying out of towns and villages to minimise damage. These measures can all be expensive, however, with the cost of safeguarding one hectare estimated to be around £750,000.

The insights into avalanche behaviour produced by the new imaging system could ultimately help SLF refine such measures so that they deliver better, more cost-effective protection. Working on the classic 'echo sounder' principle that has underpinned radar ever since its invention in the early 20th century, the system uses an antenna to transmit radio waves and a 1.95 metre receiver array to capture them as they reflect back from the snow.

The power and wavelength of the radio waves maximise their ability to penetrate into the snow as it moves. The system, which has a 30° field of view providing full coverage of an avalanche track, offers greater sensitivity and higher resolution images than any other similar system previously developed. It can work autonomously or can be operated manually over a Virtual Private Network.

The project has interacted closely with research led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) that has used radar to measure and monitor, with millimetre precision, the melt rates of Antarctic ice shelves - key to understanding how sea levels may rise in future in response to climate change.

Professor Brennan comments: "Two members of our team spent two months in Antarctica working with BAS, which was invaluable in informing development of our imaging system. Our system is an excellent scientific research tool generating real-world field data that SLF can put to productive and potentially life-and money-saving use in the years ahead."
-end-
For media enquiries contact:

Professor Paul Brennan, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University College London, Tel: 020 7679 3191, e-mail: p.brennan@ucl.ac.uk; or the EPSRC Press Office, Tel: 01793 444 404, e-mail: pressoffice@epsrc.ac.uk

Notes for Editors:

The 3-year project Advanced MIMO Radar Development for Geophysical Imaging Applications began in March 2013 and ended in March 2016, receiving a total of just over £305,000 in EPSRC funding.

Avalanche deaths per year worldwide: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/avalanche-profile/

Avalanche protection costs: http://www.slf.ch/forschung_entwicklung/lawinen/lawinenschutz/index_EN

NERC-funded BAS-led project: This has produced the first-ever year-long record of ice melt on West Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier to be generated by a ground-based echo sounder.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC): As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate. By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk

University College London: UCL was founded in 1826. It was the first English University established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and over 11,000 staff. Annual income is more than £11 billion. http://www.ucl.ac.uk Twitter: @uclnews YouTube channel: YouTube.com/UCLTV

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Related Imaging System Articles:

Use of medical imaging
This observational study looked at patterns of use for computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and nuclear medicine imaging in the United States and in Ontario, Canada, from 2000 to 2016.
Outsmarting deep fakes: AI-driven imaging system protects authenticity
To thwart sophisticated deep fake methods of altering photos and video, researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering devised a technique to authenticate images throughout the entire pipeline, from acquisition to delivery, using artificial intelligence (AI).
PolyU develops palm-sized 3D ultrasound imaging system for scoliosis mass screening
The first-of-its-kind palm-sized 3D ultrasound imaging system for radiation-free scoliosis assessment, named 'Scolioscan Air', can bring accurate, safe and cost-efficient mass screening to schools and anywhere in the community.
Imaging system helps surgeons remove tiny ovarian tumors
Researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a way to improve the accuracy of surgery to remove ovarian tumors.
Diattenuation imaging -- a promising imaging technique for brain research
A new imaging method provides structural information about brain tissue that was previously difficult to access.
New optical imaging system could be deployed to find tiny tumors
MIT researchers have developed a near-infrared fluorescent optical imaging system that could enable them to find tiny tumors, as small as a couple of hundred cells, deep within the body.
New nuclear medicine imaging method shows strong potential for cancer imaging
A new nuclear medicine imaging method could help diagnose widespread tumors, such as breast, colon, pancreas, lung and head and neck cancer better than current methods, with less inconvenience to patients and with equal or improved accuracy.
Purdue researchers developing novel biomedical imaging system
Purdue University researchers are developing a novel biomedical imaging system that combines optical and ultrasound technology to improve diagnosis of life-threatening diseases.
Research brief: UMN researchers develop DIY field imaging system
Farmers and plant breeders can now build their own automated field camera track system to collect data on dynamic plant traits, such as crop lodging and movement, as it's happening in the field to help reduce losses in crop yield.
Versatile ultrasound system could transform how doctors use medical imaging
A new ultrasound system that uses optical, instead of electronic components, could improve performance while giving doctors significantly more flexibility in how they use ultrasound to diagnose and treat medical problems.
More Imaging System News and Imaging System Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.