Satellite InSAR Data: Reservoir Monitoring from Space

Course Description

Satellite radar data for surface deformation monitoring are gaining increasing attention and not only within the oil and gas community. Co-seismic deformation maps are routinely generated using satellite images acquired before and after an earthquake and radar measurements are now becoming mandatory to be compliant with new environmental regulations. Radar data provide a powerful tool for remotely measuring extremely small surface displacements over large areas and long periods of time, without requiring the installation of in-situ equipment. However, apart from remote sensing and radar specialists, only a relatively small number of geoscientists and engineers understand how a radar sensor orbiting the Earth can actually measure ground displacements of a fraction of a centimetre.

This course provides a step-by-step introduction to satellite radar sensors, SAR imagery, SAR interferometry and advanced InSAR techniques. Rather than a tutorial for remote sensing specialists, the course starts from very basic concepts and explains in plain language the most important ideas related to SAR data processing and why geoscientists and engineers should take a vested interest in this new information source. Instead of providing a thorough analysis of InSAR algorithms, the main aim of the course is to diffuse the news about the potential impact of InSAR results on many real-life applications, highlighting where and when they can provide effective solutions.

Participants will learn that InSAR is not only an information source for research and development activities, but also a reliable tool that can be applied successfully to many different applications, some of them related to the so-called “energy transition” and the need to run “environmental friendly” energy projects. Special attention is paid to oil and gas applications where surface deformation data can provide valuable constraints on reservoir dynamics, enabling time-lapse monitoring of volumetric strains at depth. Volume changes in the reservoir induced by fluid extraction and injection can induce both subsidence and uplift. Stress changes may then trigger the reactivation of faults and threaten well integrity. Depending on the depth of the reservoir and the characteristics of the cap rock, deformation may also be detectable at the surface.

After demonstrating case studies focusing on secondary and tertiary oil recovery, Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) and Underground Gas Storage (UGS), the course describes the available historical archives of SAR images, allowing, even if not at full worldwide coverage, the estimation of surface deformation phenomena since 1992.

The course concludes with a brief discussion of the new satellite sensors to be launched in the next few years and the new trends in data integration and visualization.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of the course, participants will be able to:

  • understand the key interest of InSAR for geoscientists and engineers;
  • understand the basic concepts behind Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors;
  • appreciate the main differences between SAR and optical images;
  • understand the basic data requirements, assumptions, limitations and applicability of SAR interferometry (InSAR);
  • discover advantages and limitations of advanced InSAR techniques for estimating sub-centimetre surface deformation phenomena from space;
  • realize why InSAR data are becoming a standard tool for surface deformation monitoring;
  • compare InSAR data with in situ measurements, such as: GPS and tiltmeters;
  • understand how surface deformation can be related to geophysical parameters at depth;
  • see how InSAR data are an effective tool for monitoring subsidence phenomena;
  • understand the importance of surface deformation monitoring in Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) and Underground Gas Storage (UGS) projects;
  • understand why InSAR data can be used as a cost-effective tool for reservoir management, as well as a risk mitigation tool;
  • start thinking about future applications of satellite radar data, possibly in synergy with other in-situ observations.

Course Outline

  1. Introduction: why are satellite radar data relevant?
  2. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors: acquisition geometry and image formation.
  3. Measuring range variations: the magic of SAR interferometry (InSAR).
  4. A tool for digital elevation model reconstruction and surface deformation analysis.
  5. Advanced InSAR techniques: from qualitative to quantitative data.
  6. From surface deformation to volume and pressure changes at depth.
  7. Overview of possible applications: subsidence monitoring, fault characterization, calibration of geological models, reservoir monitoring.
  8. Time-lapse data for Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), Underground Gas Storage (UGS), secondary and tertiary (EOR) oil recovery projects.
  9. Available data sources and historical archives of SAR data. A quick overview of other InSAR applications.
  10. Summary and future trends.

Participants’ Profile

The course is designed for anyone who would like to understand how satellite sensors can measure surface displacements to a fraction of a centimetre from space. It is not a course for radar specialists. Reservoir engineers, geophysicists, geodesists, geologists should all be interested in this new tool for surface deformation monitoring that is becoming more and more a standard. Radar data are still largely unknown but their impact on oil & gas and civil protection applications can be huge.


Rather than a strong background in remote sensing, geophysics and calculus, curiosity is probably the most important prerequisite. The course can be understood by geoscientists and engineers with a moderate mathematical background.

About the Instructor

Alessandro Ferretti graduated in electronic engineering in 1993 at the Politecnico di Milano (POLIMI). He then received his MSc in information technology from CEFRIEL (1994) and his PhD in electrical engineering from POLIMI (1997). Since 1994 his research efforts have been focused on radar data processing, SAR interferometry and the use of remote sensing information for oil & gas and Civil Protection applications. He is co-inventor of the “Permanent Scatterer Technique” (PSInSAR™) and its advanced version: SqueeSAR™, a technology providing millimetre accuracy surface deformation measurements from satellite radar data.

In 2000 he founded the company “Tele-Rilevamento Europa” (TRE), offering high-quality surface deformation data for many different applications, from oil/gas reservoir surveillance, to landslide monitoring. Since 2008, he has been acting as Chairman of the Board of TRE Canada Inc. In June 2012, Alessandro Ferretti, together with Prof. Fabio Rocca, was awarded the “ENI Award 2012” for the potential impact of the PSInSAR™ technology on the oil & gas sector. TRE is now TRE ALTAMIRA, after the integration with Altamira Information in 2016. Alessandro Ferretti is currently CEO of the TRE ALTAMIRA group, having offices in Milan, Barcelona and Vancouver (BC). He coauthored more than 100 technical publications in international journals.