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EarthCube Affiliate Project Creates Geographical Mapping Software

By Henry Lemersal, SDSC Research Experience for High School Student (REHS) Intern

In a scientific climate where efficiency and optimization are key, every little update to software quality is pivotal - enter GMTSAR. Improving upon the InSAR processing system, GMTSAR (a portmanteau of “Generic Mapping Tools” and “Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar”) utilizes radar images collected by satellites to monitor the motion of the Earth’s surface with precision of up to ten millimeters. The development of this software allows for superior data processing and results, all as the quantity and quality of collected images is increasing over time. 


“By processing thousands of SAR images together to create a time series, we can greatly reduce the noise that usually obscures the signals we want to see,” said Katherine Guns, a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. “With this large dataset, we work to monitor all kinds of surface motion across California and along the San Andreas plate boundary fault system, from earthquake signals, to fault creep, to hydrological processes, to anthropogenic resource extraction, all with high accuracy and high spatial resolution.”


Surface velocities calculated from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 SAR satellite imagery, in Line-Of-Sight (LOS). Five descending tracks, each calculated from 1000+ individual images taken from 2014 - 2021 show numerous signals along the plate boundary. Each colored pixel is ~150 x 125 meters in resolution.

The open-source nature of GMTSAR has greatly expanded the availability and flexibility of the software, allowing both new users and experienced SAR experts to have an opportunity for learning and interaction. In addition, the software’s structure has made it much more convenient for wide-scale usage, enhancing its effectiveness and capabilities for collaboration.


GMTSAR presented a poster entitled Harnessing Large InSAR Datasets to Explore Crustal Processes along the San Andreas Fault Plate Boundary Over Time: GMTSAR in Action at the recent EarthCube Annual Meeting and it is found here.


Funding for the project is provided by National Science Foundation Award Number 1834807.

About EarthCube

EarthCube is a community-driven activity sponsored by the National Science Foundation to transform research in the academic geosciences community. EarthCube aims to create a well-connected environment to share data and knowledge in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner, thus accelerating our ability to better understand and predict the Earth’s systems. EarthCube membership is free and open to anyone in the Geosciences, as well as those building platforms to serve the Earth Sciences. The EarthCube Office is led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) on the UC San Diego campus. 


Media Contact: 

Kimberly Mann Bruch, San Diego Supercomputer Center Communications,


Membership Contact:

Lynne Schreiber, San Diego Supercomputer Center EarthCube Office,


Related Links:



San Diego Supercomputer Center:

UC San Diego:

National Science Foundation:

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