TanDEM-X satellite data of Morocco - Sarah Boulton

Scientists at the University of Plymouth have been awarded access to cutting edge satellite data in order to gain a better understanding of our planet’s geomorphology.

The three-dimensional global elevation model, captured using the TanDEM-X satellite mission operated by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), provides a view of the world’s mountain peaks and valley floors in greater detail than ever captured before.

Now scientists across the world have been given access to the dataset range, to assess its potential applications for fields including climate and environmental research, surveying and mapping, and infrastructure planning.

Among those scientists are Dr Sarah Boulton and Dr Martin Stokes, from the University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Dr Boulton, Lecturer in Neotectonics, has been awarded data covering parts of Morocco, a country which she and other Plymouth academics have previously studied in projects funded by the Royal Geographical Society and National Geographic. She said:

“The region is both mountainous and has many river gorges, with parts of it completely inaccessible, so it has been difficult to conduct a full geomorphological analysis in the field. These data will enable us to look at the area in a higher resolution than ever before, to assess the impact of river systems on landscape evolution, and investigate the changing nature of mountainous areas. It will give us a better understanding of areas we currently know little about.”

Dr Stokes, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in Geological Sciences, will be assessing data relating to the Cape Verde Islands. It is an area he has also studied previously, and recently received funding from the British Society of Geomorphology to assess past periods of humidity in the region. He said:

“Cape Verde are a series of volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean that are offshore west Africa and close to the Equator. Their climate is very arid and they are considered an offshore extension of the Sahara Desert. The high resolution satellite data will provide an opportunity to examine how changes in the Saharan Desert climate over the last 100,000 years have generated large floods that have eroded the volcanic craters and have deposited fans of sediment around their margins.”

The TanDEM-X satellite mission created a global elevation model which its coordinators say offers unprecedented accuracy compared with other global datasets.

Around 150 million square kilometres of land surface were scanned from space by two radar sensors orbiting in close formation, providing the level of accurate topographical data essential for all geoscientific applications.

Seeing the planet in greater detail

Dr Sarah Boulton, Lecturer in Neotectonics, will use data from the TanDEM-X satellite mission to take an in-depth look at remote areas of Morocco. It is a country which she and other Plymouth academics, including Dr Martin Stokes, have previously studied through projects funded by the Royal Geographical Society and National Geographic

In this video, Dr Boulton explains more about the data and its potential impact on our understanding of geological features in this region.