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Addressing national security needs benefits energy and environment



Jane C. S. Long Associate Director of Energy and Environment

Lawrence Livermore’s Energy and Environment Directorate conducts a wide range of research projects in the geologic, atmospheric, and environmental sciences to address challenges in national security, environmental remediation, and energy supply. Because different challenges can require surprisingly similar technical advances, a Livermore technology developed for one national need often benefits others.

The article Monitoring Earth’s Subsurface from Space describes one technology that is helping to address a national security need and is also useful in managing Earth’s resources and furthering our understanding of natural hazards. Called interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), the technology uses data from radar satellites to monitor Earth’s surface from space and detect surface deformations as small as 1 centimeter. InSAR is assisting the Department of Energy in its ongoing effort to monitor for clandestine underground nuclear testing. Experiments have shown that InSAR can potentially locate clandestine events to within 100 meters, even long after the event has occurred. It is also useful for a variety of Earth systems and engineering applications.

Because InSAR monitors Earth from space, it can detect deformation patterns over a large region. This capability can provide researchers in other basic geoscience and applied research areas with useful data. For example, geologists use the information to help them determine Earth’s tectonic plate boundaries. Seismologists are furthering their understanding of natural phenomena such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. The technology could be used as an early warning system for these events.

InSAR complements Livermore-developed seismic methods that have been used to calibrate seismic stations around the world to monitor compliance with nuclear test bans and improve characterization of earthquakes. In both nuclear testing and earthquakes, seismic waves travel under Earth’s surface. Livermore seismologists have studied the differences between signatures produced by the waves from both types of events. Strengthening Livermore’s ability to distinguish and characterize earthquakes, nuclear explosions, and other events also advances Laboratory efforts in resource management.

As stewards of our Earth, it is important that we find ways to address worldwide environmental concerns and also help the U.S. develop sustainable energy reserves to reduce dependence on petroleum from the Middle East. The Laboratory has many efforts addressing these important needs. Remote systems such as InSAR are a powerful way to obtain integrated information to advance research for resource management. Remote sensing can be combined with other technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) to layer data tailored for a specific application. For example, we can combine InSAR data with geologic information to help determine the most likely locations for geothermal reservoirs or provide information for managing reservoirs.

Many Laboratory technologies also take advantage of Livermore’s vast experience modeling Earth systems, which provide an understanding of subsurface processes on multiple space and time scales. For example, the InSAR team models data to determine the propagation of surface deformation or changes to underground structures over time.

Combining methods such as InSAR with GIS and simulations involves multidisciplinary teams. Livermore’s multidisciplinary efforts maximize the Laboratory’s capabilities and enable it to develop technologies that contribute to both national security and environmental science. Many technologies such as InSAR have also benefited from Livermore’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, which provides initial funding for many Laboratory efforts.

It is an enormous undertaking to address the challenges in national security and to effect change in environmental management and energy supply. However, the Laboratory excels at addressing these national needs.

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