Articles | Volume 13, issue 3
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 659–667, 2013
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 659–667, 2013

Research article 18 Mar 2013

Research article | 18 Mar 2013

Multi-temporal SAR interferometry reveals acceleration of bridge sinking before collapse

J. J. Sousa1,2 and L. Bastos2,3 J. J. Sousa and L. Bastos
  • 1Department of Engineering, School of Science and Technology, University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Vila Real, Portugal
  • 2Center of Geology, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
  • 3Department of Geosciences, Environment and Spatial Planning, Faculty of Science, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal

Abstract. On the night of 4 March 2001, at Entre-os-Rios (Northern Portugal), the Hintze Ribeiro centennial bridge collapsed killing 59 people traveling in a bus and three cars that were crossing the Douro River. According to the national authorities, the collapse was due to two decades of uncontrolled sand extraction which compromised the stability of the bridge's pillars, together with underestimating the warnings from divers and technicians. In this work we do not intend to corroborate or contradict the official version of the accident's causes, but only demonstrate the potential of Multi-Temporal Interferometric techniques for detection and monitoring of deformations in structures such as bridges, and consequently the usefulness of the derived information in some type of early warning system to help prevent new catastrophic events. Based on the analysis of 52 ERS-1/2 covering the period from May 1995 to the fatal occurrence, we were able to detect significant movements, reaching rates of 20 mm yr−1, in the section of the bridge that fell into the Douro River, which are obvious signs of the bridge's instability. These promising results demonstrate that with the new high-resolution synthetic aperture radar satellite scenes it is possible to develop interferometric based methodologies for structural health monitoring.