Integrating InSAR Analysis for Ground Truth in Geotechnical Engineering

This month’s episode of IAM News featured the case of an architecturally ambitious project constructed on variable soil, and how FEA assisted in the foundation design. But, once the geotechnical predictions have been made, how can stakeholders tell what is actually happening to the ground beneath the site? Let’s delve into the synergy of FEA and InSAR analysis and elucidate how satellite radar data can be harnessed to authenticate and refine the geotechnical predictions post-construction.

FEA: The Foundation

Finite Element Analysis is a valuable tool in geotechnical engineering, enabling engineers to model and simulate the behaviour of the ground during complex construction projects. It is a computational technique that breaks down complex structures into small elements, allowing for complex geometries, detailed analysis and prediction of stress, deformation, and stability. However, for all of its power, FEA is inherently a model, and real-world variations can lead to discrepancies between predictions and outcomes.

The Need for Validation

As infrastructure projects become increasingly intricate, the demand for reliable validation methodologies is paramount. Enter InSAR, a remote sensing technique that utlises satellite radar data to detect ground surface deformations with millimetre-level precision.

How InSAR Works

InSAR relies on the principles of radar interferometry, involving the comparison of radar images acquired at different times. Earth observation satellites emit radar waves towards the Earth’s surface and capture phase data on multiple passes. By comparing this phase data over time, subtle ground movements can be detected and quantified.

Integrating SAR with FEA

The integration of InSAR analysis post-construction provides valuable feedback loop for geotechnical engineers. Here’s how:

  1. Real-Time Monitoring: While FEA provides predictions based on assumptions and input parameters, InSAR offers near real-time monitoring. By comparing predicted deformations with actual surface changes, engineers can gauge the accuracy of their FEA models.
  2. Identifying Anomalies: InSAR acts as a vigilant eye, detecting anomalies and unexpected ground movements that might have been overlooked during the FEA modeling phase. This assists in identifying potential risks and fortifying infrastructure against unforeseen challenges.
  3. Refinement of FEA Models: InSAR derived data serves as empirical evidence for refining FEA models. Engineers can calibrate their models based on observed ground deformations, enhancing the accuracy of future predictions and optimising design parameters.


The amalgamation of FEA and InSAR analysis is a formidable approach in the realm of geotechnical engineering. As construction projects become more complex, the ability to validate and refine predictive models is paramount. By leveraging the precision of InSAR analysis, engineers can enhance the reliability of their FEA predictions, ensuring the longevity and safety of critical infrastructure assets. This synergy marks a paradigm shift in geotechnical engineering, where the marriage of simulation and empirical evidence paves the way for a new era of accuracy and resilience.

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