The program allows scientists to study a fault as it progresses with built-up pressure, then release.
The radar is housed in a pod under an aircraft that flies out of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. At an altitude of 45,000 feet, the radar pod collects data over a designated region.
“The key thing is it shoots images at two different times,” said Eric Fielding, a geophysicist at JPL.
The aerial radar vehicle can shoot images minutes to months apart.
By looking at how the surface of the Earth deforms between earthquakes, scientists will have a better understanding of that particular fault line, Fielding added.
The best data will be derived after larger earthquakes occur.
“We will look at how the strain is building on the fault,” Fielding said.
Currently, the aerial vehicle is being used to study faults in California only.
“We use satellites to look at earthquake [faults] around the world,” Fielding said.
“The first flight to [study earthquakes in California] was in February 2009. We are waiting for it to come by next month with the second flight.”
The data would determine the likelihood of a large — magnitude of 5 or above — earthquake striking a particular fault line within the next 30 years, not the exact timing of an earthquake.
“As far as we know now, that would be impossible,” he said.
All faults across the state are being studied with a particular emphasis on the 800-mile San Andreas fault.
“Some faults are locked, building stress and pressure, while others are creeping or slipping all the time,” Fielding said. “We will map which are locked and which are creeping.”
Fielding will be studying the Hayward fault along the east side of San Francisco Bay, which ruptured in a magnitude 6.8 to 7.0 earthquake in 1868.
Fielding will also study the landslides along the Hayward fault.
“The Berkeley landslides are moving all the time,” he said. “We hope to understand what causes these landslides to move, the physics of how it works after an earthquake.”
The information gathered will be shared with scientists around the world and will be released at www.jpl.nasa.gov.