Skip to main content

Using radar to probe planetary activity

Using radar to probe planetary activity

Richard Ghail

EnVision Venus and Earth: Using radar to probe planetary activity.

What’s the link between the construction of Britain’s largest sewer and the geology of our closest planetary neighbour? Surprising as it may seem, the same satellite radar technology that now used to identify the hazards posed by geological faults under London for the Thames Tideway Tunnel will soon be probing for geological activity on Venus.

As a planetary and engineering geologist, my research has taken me both out of this world and deep into its heart. Employing a technique called persistent scatterer interferometry, my team have identified faults under London moving at millimetres per year, less than a tenth the rate of the San Andreas in California, and previously undetectable. Before our measurements we didn’t even know the faults were there! Yet they explain many of the hazards encountered by engineers in London, from blowouts of hypoxic air along the Thames, to the loss of an entire tunnelling machine. Our technique is able to sense ground movements in response to engineering, groundwater flow and geological activity.


The great mystery about Venus is reconciling how a planet with such complex and diverse geology can host a thousand impact craters distributed at random across it surface implying, on the face of it, a uniform surface age. I’ve discovered that the solution to this question has a lot to do with the causes of the fault movements my team detected in London. Just as our continents are broken into many small fragments that jostle and nudge against each other, so too the surface of Venus is broken into country-sized blocks that are continuously in motion, rather like pack ice, and that both creates the variety of geological features we see at their boundaries and yet preserves craters in their interiors. Measuring that activity will be a key job for EnVision, using the same radar techniques developed to detect groundwater movement in London. Who’d have thought it?




Explore Royal Holloway

Get help paying for your studies at Royal Holloway through a range of scholarships and bursaries.

There are lots of exciting ways to get involved at Royal Holloway. Discover new interests and enjoy existing ones.

Heading to university is exciting. Finding the right place to live will get you off to a good start.

Whether you need support with your health or practical advice on budgeting or finding part-time work, we can help.

Discover more about our academic departments and schools.

Find out why Royal Holloway is in the top 25% of UK universities for research rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’.

Royal Holloway is a research intensive university and our academics collaborate across disciplines to achieve excellence.

Discover world-class research at Royal Holloway.

Discover more about who we are today, and our vision for the future.

Royal Holloway began as two pioneering colleges for the education of women in the 19th century, and their spirit lives on today.

We’ve played a role in thousands of careers, some of them particularly remarkable.

Find about our decision-making processes and the people who lead and manage Royal Holloway today.