Climate & Environment

    City Resilience

Post-Doctoral Fellowships

Hong Kong

Insuring infrastructure safety using satellite monitoring technology

Infrastructure safety is not solely a matter of conception. During their life-span, man-made structures can sustain ground and structural deformation caused by natural or human forces. If excessive, these deformations can threaten the infrastructure’s health, and potentially result in catastrophic consequences. Declining infrastructures and accelerated urbanization, especially the development of underground space, are aggravating this hazard. Recognizing this threat to public safety, Dr Peifeng Ma is developing an innovative satellite radar capable of continually monitoring infrastructural dynamics from space. His final objective is to provide governments with the means to timely discover abnormal deformation for carrying out maintenance and avoiding possible risks.
« Like human’s health condition, infrastructural health should also be examined regularly to prevent potential hazards », explains Dr Peifeng Ma. Before a building or a railway collapses, slow deformation often occurs. However, detecting these subtle but abnormal deformations is a challenging undertaking, especially considering such alterations can happen over long periods of time and amount to less than a few centimeters. What Dr. Peifeng Ma is developing is a modern tool able to constantly monitor these small changes from space with millimeter precision and over spans of days to years.

A cost-effective and high-accuracy state-of-the-art early warning system

The remote sensing technology used for the project is a radar system called InSAR, which can measure minuscule changes on the earth’s surface by detecting differences in the phase of the waves returning to the satellite. However, Dr Peifeng Ma’s research project will not solely consist of developing a cutting-edge infrastructure monitoring method. The objective is also to design standard guidelines for infrastructural health diagnosis and early warning of possible deformation risks. In other words, the project is not just about innovative technology, the aim is also to provide relevant actors with a fully operational system, incorporating expert knowledge for assessment of the collected data. Additionally, the project will also allow long-term infrastructural health archives.

This project will have an immediate impact on both local and international practices. By providing a
cost-effective and high-accuracy deformation monitoring and state-of-the-art early warning system, the project will assist the government departments in their efforts to coordinate infrastructure maintenance and avoid possible risks. Scientifically, the achievements of Dr. Peifeng Ma’s research will also benefit other fields in which an enhanced understanding of the dynamic mechanisms of urban infrastructures is also critical, such as the investigation of sea level change for instance.

Eyes in the sky: How satellites can monitor infrastructure health

Discover an article about Dr Peifeng Ma's project




Faculty of Social Science


Hong Kong



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