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November tests from space to help global businesses locate land-subsidence threats

09 November 2004

(Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Nov. 8, 2004) -- The European Space Agency (ESA), in partnership with the international engineering services firm AMEC, is poised to begin testing of a down-to-earth application of Satellite Earth Observation (EO) technology with major businesses around the globe.

Testing by AMEC of EO technology to locate and evaluate potential land subsidence problems is scheduled to commence in November at seven sites. Land subsidence can cause significant structural damage to highways, dams, pipelines and buildings if not identified and dealt with early.

Under an ESA-funded technology-development contract, AMEC’s Earth & Environmental division is working with some of the world’s largest resource and infrastructure development companies who must deal with land subsidence problems on projects throughout the world.

Testing will commence this month at a reclaimed mine waste rock dump in California for Kinross Gold; underground mine workings in northern Ontario for Placer Dome; a railway in Germany for Die Bahn; tunnel construction in Germany for Walter Bau; a salt mine in Germany for Sudsalz; an open pit mine in South Africa for Rio Tinto; and a mine access road in Peru for Teck Cominco. Future tests are proposed for a pipeline corridor in British Columbia for Terasen Gas, a railway in the United Kingdom for Network Rail and an oil and gas reservoir in Germany for Wintershall.

“This is great opportunity for our clients to gain a first-hand understanding and experience with these very innovative and potentially cost-effective space-borne technologies,” said Tim Conley, Vice-President and Managing Director of AMEC’s Earth & Environmental operations in Europe. “We will meet again with our clients to review the results of the test trials and report our findings back to ESA.”

The ESA is an entity funded by 15 European states that promotes space exploration and research. It launches and operates satellites and annually funds contracts to promote the use of earth-observation technology.

Protocols for the testing of EO technologies on land subsidence were developed during an October workshop hosted by AMEC in Vancouver, Canada. Workshop participants contributed to discussions on planning, scheduling and testing parameters.

Space-borne Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) will be the primary EO technology used in the test trials to investigate and assess ground subsidence. InSAR utilizes satellite-based data acquired at two different times along orbits of a similar trajectory to detect minute changes in the ground surface. InSAR can be used to map subsidence with a vertical precision of a few millimeters, and it can be a valuable tool to detect zones of ground settlement that could harm existing or future facilities.

AMEC is being assisted by subcontractor and strategic partner Atlantis Scientific Inc., a world-class EO provider that specializes in products and services relating to satellite data acquisition, radar remote sensing, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) processing, Interferometric SAR, image analysis and advanced signal processing applications.

AMEC is also employing the services of Infoterra Ltd. of the United Kingdom to provide high-resolution optical imaging services that can be used to help interpret InSAR data. Additionally, the Land Use Planning and Natural Risks Division of BRGM (French Geological Survey) will provide scientific review of the project. Each of these groups actively participated in the Vancouver workshop and will be involved throughout the duration of the project.

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