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22-15. Landslide process and hazard characterization using ground-based synthetic aperture radar

We seek a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Scholar to investigate and develop ground-based interferometric SAR methods for detecting, tracking, and warning for landslide motion with the goal of increasing our understanding of landslide kinematics, landslide hazard characterization and subsequent risk reduction.

Description of the Research Opportunity

Landslides occur throughout the United States and its territories and lead to loss of life and considerable property damage each year.  In some cases, extremely large but slowly moving landslides pose unquantified but potentially massive hazard to nearby communities and natural resources.  Whereas regional and local zoning laws that prohibit or limit development in areas prone to landslides may minimize or otherwise mitigate landslide hazards for some communities, in other regions, landslides may be either historically endured as an acceptable hazard or go unnoticed until they begin to mobilize and threaten development.  It is at these times that landslide monitoring protocols are typically implemented to track movement with the intent to provide early warning of catastrophic landslide failure.  Landslide monitoring methods have evolved over the past several decades, and now include a plethora of sophisticated techniques, including physical instrumentation (crackmeters, inclinometers, wireline extensometers), prism and GPS monitoring, lidar-based topographic change detection, structure from motion photogrammetry, and radar-based detection methods. 

Among the most recent advances of characterizing landslide movement are methods tied to the use of ground-based synthetic aperture radar monitoring (GB-InSAR).  While extensively used in the active monitoring of rock slope failures in open-pit mines, their use in natural landslide settings is not as common, nor are methodologies as well developed for assessing three-dimensional stability and failure potential.  The characteristics of GB-InSAR systems have incredible potential for identifying precursory landslide movement prior to catastrophic failure, including sub-millimeter precision, multi-kilometer range, frequent scan interval (as little as 2-minutes), and the ability to see through poor weather conditions. Additional targeted research on this type of monitoring and related radar data analysis, combined with established methods for characterizing landslide kinematics and stability assessment could assist in warning in advance of catastrophic failure in natural landslide settings.  We therefore seek a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Scholar to investigate and develop GB-InSAR methods for detecting, tracking, and warning for landslide motion with the goal of landslide hazard characterization and subsequent risk reduction.  Potential projects could focus on the development of novel methods to define atmospheric or instrumental decorrelation sources on experimental data to improve landslide monitoring in challenging environments.  Another example of a research focus could be to identify rockfalls and talus slope raveling motion apart from larger slope movements based on rapid changes in coherence values across a slope. 

Developing novel methods of tracking landslide movement and acceleration support the USGS Natural Hazards Mission Area’s goals to reduce landslide hazards and the risks posed by them to communities and resources.  As one potential pathway, applicants could conduct landslide monitoring to support novel methods of landslide deformation potential and risk assessments related to the effects of potentially catastrophic rockslides within U.S. National Forests and/or within U.S. National Parks.  Existing and ongoing data from the Barry Arm, Alaska landslide in Prince William Sound would support these endeavors given the region’s importance to marine traffic and the potential for the landslide to severely impact nearby natural, cultural, and economic resources within the Chugach National Forest.  Existing ground-based InSAR datasets from Yosemite National Park in California aimed at exfoliation-type rockfall detection would also support these goals, as would other targeted projects within landslide-prone National Forests and Parks, or other public lands.  In another potential pathway, applicants could conduct research aimed at monitoring and assessing landslide risks along transportation routes (roads, railways, or coastal routes) that have high landslide hazard and risk potential.  This would support efforts targeted at landslide risk assessment of transportation infrastructure and to community resilience by using monitoring capabilities to develop decision making protocols (e.g., warning and evacuation criteria). 

This research opportunity provides considerable resources for potential applicants.  These include an IBIS-FM ground-based synthetic aperture radar system, Riegl VZ2000i and VZ400i terrestrial lidar units, an Infratec VarioCAM high-definition infrared thermal camera, Topcon Dual RTK GNSS receivers, and access to several USGS supercomputing clusters.  Software resources include IDS Guardian software, Maptek Point Studio point cloud processing software, and a multitude of geotechnical slope stability software (both LEM and FEM modules).  Current USGS studies using GB-InSAR are focused on rockslides in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and rockfalls in Yosemite National Park, California and applicants are encouraged to propose projects that take advantage of the existing and ongoing datasets being collected in Prince William Sound and Yosemite National Park (these include existing airborne and ground-based lidar data sets as well as ground- and satellite-based InSAR data sets).  However, applicants may also propose projects that develop new datasets on other landslides in order to increase the applicability of any monitoring and analysis methods developed by the study. 

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas. 


Proposed Duty Station(s)

Moffett Field, California

Anchorage, Alaska 


Areas of PhD

Civil engineering, geologic engineering, geology, geophysics, physics or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered). 



Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Civil Engineer, Research Geologist, Research Geophysicist, Research Physical Scientist, Research Physicist

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)