Geomatic Ventures - New ESA BIC Harwell Incubatee Interview

We chatted to Paul from Geomatic Ventures about how they are using Earth Observation data to solve modern day challenges.


Tell us about Geomatic Ventures and the product you offer?

Geomatic Ventures is a spin out from the University of Nottingham formed in July 2015. We have a specific interest in applying satellite Earth Observation to real-world problems and have developed a unique solution to a long-standing barrier in its use in a number of important applications.

It has long been observed that everywhere we look the land is moving. Not only due to natural phenomena such as plate tectonics, volcanic eruption and landslides, but also due to man-made activities such as mining, oil extraction, gas storage and groundwater pumping.  At Geomatic Ventures we have developed an algorithm that can uniquely give a full picture of movements over the whole landscape, dramatically enhancing the capability to characterise and interpret any motion detected. Our products have already achieved remarkable results, revealing astonishing patterns of deformation extending many kilometres across the terrain and derived at millimetric rates of precision.


How does it work?

Our solution uses the signals from radar satellites that, when taken at different times and compared using a technique called interferometry, may be used to detect surface movement to sub-centimetre precisions.

Most interferometry techniques work well over areas of high reflectively such as concrete surfaces and rock faces but are hard to apply over agricultural and forested areas. This means that changes can be measured very accurately over bare mountains, desert regions and cities but the coverage elsewhere can be non-existent, leading to an incomplete picture of any deformation and, in some cases, missing some land movements completely.


What’s the space connection?

In 2014, ESA launched the first Sentinel-1 satellite, a radar satellite with a mission to regularly monitor the environment in Europe and around the world.  For example, every location in Europe is being imaged by this satellite every 12 days.  Sentinel-1 data is free for anyone to use and can be downloaded within hours of acquisition through a number of publicly-accessible data hubs.  This represents a fantastic opportunity for businesses like ours to develop products and to offer a reliable and sustainable service to our customers.


Who’s the target mar ket?

With a quantified product we have begun targeting onshore oil and gas extraction particularly the fracking industry and shale gas extraction. For example, shale gas reserves are often located in coal mining areas that are already subject to land motion and sometimes, minor earth tremors caused by the mines flooding after abandonment.  If fracking is applied in such areas, the injection of fluids under pressure may upset this dynamics, increasing the frequency of tremors and possibly the patterns of land motion at the surface.

At Geomatic Ventures we can measure the land surface very carefully before any fracking takes place, to characterise the existing dynamics of the landscape.  This can then be used by the regulators to determine if fracking may be applied safely in the area and, through continued monitoring, can help to ensure any drilling is having the required minimal impact upon the environment.

Our products may also be used to help determine if any existing infrastructure such as roads, railways and pipelines are under any risk due to changing subsidence patterns.


How did you find out about the ESA BIC and why did you decide to join?

After entering and winning the Copernicus Masters in 2014, a competition for commercial Earth Observation ideas, we were recommended to join the ESA BIC in Harwell. Being based on the Harwell Campus in the middle of the space cluster should strengthen our business as well as access to funding and support which will allow us to develop our technology further.

For example, the funding that the ESA BIC provides will allow us to strengthen our image processing team. Previously the image processing has taken anything up to 30 days but now we hope to reduce this to 1 day. This is far more commercially viable and will mean that our surveys are up-to-date and valuable.


What do you hope to achieve at ESA BIC?

One challenge we face at the moment is providing surveys of areas larger than what is covered by a single Sentinel-1 image frame. Regional and National scale surveys are an attractive business model for Geomatic Ventures but the routine mosaicking of several land motion products is not straightforward.  Support from the ESA BIC Harwell will hopefully allow us to overcome this problem, stitching images together to create continuous coverage.

We also intend to patent our technology and are looking into ways to make our product more interpretive, allowing a client to see not only the land motion but also explain why this might be happening and what consequences it may have.

The image shows the city of Alkmaar, Netherlands where the different colours represent different types of land motion as calculated by Geomatic Ventures. 




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