Category Archives: COMET news

COMET honoured by Royal Astronomical Society

COMET’s achievements in Earth observation and modelling have been recognised by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in their latest round of awards.

The 2018 RAS Group Achievement Award in Geophysics acknowledges COMET’s success in using satellite and ground-based observations and geophysical modelling to study earthquakes, volcanoes and tectonics across the globe.

COMET Director Tim Wright said: “We are delighted that our collective achievements have been recognised by the RAS in this way.  It’s particularly rewarding to receive an honour for the full breadth and depth of COMET’s research.”

In granting the award, the RAS highlighted COMET’s contributions to satellite geodesy, particularly Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry (InSAR), which has significantly improved COMET’s ability to respond to tectonic events.  Notably, COMET’s InSAR capabilities allowed rapid and in-depth investigations into the 2016 Amatrice, Italy and Kaikoura, New Zealand earthquakes.

Sentinel-1 interferogram of the ground deformation around Amatrice, Italy due to the 24 August 2016 earthquake.

Professor Wright added: “In both cases, we used InSAR to reveal the surprising complexity of the underlying faults, helping us to interpret the events and improve seismic hazard models.”

The launch of LiCSAR, COMET’s automated processing system, in December 2016 represented a major forward step in managing the vast amounts of data generated by the Sentinel-1 constellation, part of the EU’s Copernicus programme.  LiCSAR is enabling scientists to study specific earthquakes and eruptions as well as longer-term records of tectonic strain and ground deformation around volcanoes – including potential signs of eruption.

The service is already providing high-resolution deformation data for the entire Alpine-Himalayan seismic belt, where most of the planet’s deadly earthquakes occur, and will be expanded to provide global coverage of the tectonic belts over the next few years.

LiCSAR, the COMET-LiCS Sentinel-1 InSAR portal

COMET is also using automated Sentinel-1 data alongside other techniques to monitor deformation at over 900 volcanoes worldwide, including regions with hazardous volcanoes that have no ground-based monitoring in place.  The ultimate goal is to monitor all active land volcanoes, around 1,300 in total.

Elsewhere in COMET, satellite imagery is being combined with topographic data and fieldwork to create a database of active faults in the Tien Shan, a region of high seismic hazard in northern Central Asia.  Working with international partners, this is creating a robust regional model of strain accumulation and release that can be used in hazard management.

Atmospheric studies are also central to COMET’s work.  The satellite-borne Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Instrument (IASI) is being used to monitor volcanic ash and SO2 emissions such as those from Holuhraun (Iceland), whose eruption in 2014-15 was a major source of SO2 emissions.  Holuhraun’s remoteness made it difficult to monitor the volcano from the ground, especially during the harsh Icelandic winter, but using IASI data, COMET was able to provide insights into both the volcano’s behaviour and its environmental impacts.  The same approach has now been extended to other remote volcanoes such as Kamchatka (Russia) and Tungurahua (Ecuador).

Elevated levels of SO2 frequently identified using IASI measurements at volcanoes in Ecuador (a,b) and Kamchatka, Russia (c,d)

These are just a few aspects of COMET’s work, carried out by researchers across the UK as part of national and international collaborations.  At the same time, COMET is supporting a vibrant community of around 80 research students, working on topics ranging from monitoring volcano deformation to modelling earthquake sequences.   There is a strong commitment to developing the next generation of researchers, with COMET providing bespoke training to both members and the wider community on interpreting InSAR and GPS data to better understand geohazards and achieve scientific goals.

Moving forward, COMET remains committed to providing open data on earthquakes, tectonics and volcanoes to support scientists worldwide, and providing greater insight into how the Earth is deforming.

Professor Wright summarised: “This honour from RAS is a great reward for the efforts being made across the COMET family to improve our understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes.  The aim now is to continue to make ground-breaking progress that also benefits the communities and decision makers managing these geohazards as part of daily life.”


  1. The NERC-funded UK Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET) provides national capability in the observation and modelling of tectonic and volcanic hazards. COMET delivers services, facilities, data and long-term research to produce world-leading science that can help the UK and others to prepare for, and respond rapidly to, earthquakes and eruptions.  Further information can be found at
  2. COMET was founded in 2002, rapidly becoming a world-leading centre for the integrated exploitation of Earth Observation and ground-based data with geophysical models for research into geohazards. From 2008 to 2014, COMET formed a theme within the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO). Since 2014, COMET has worked in partnership with the British Geological Survey (BGS).
  3. COMET is currently distributed across nine UK academic institutions: the universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford and Reading and University College London. A full membership list can be found at
  4. The Royal Astronomical Society ( was founded in 1820 to encourage and promote the study of geophysics as well as astronomy and solar-system science. The Group Award recognises outstanding achievement by large consortia in any branch of astronomy or geophysics.  The full citation for COMET’s award can be found via the RAS website.
  5. LiCSAR, the COMET-LiCS Sentinel-1 InSAR portal can be found at LiCSAR is funded by NERC via COMET (COME30001), the Looking inside the Continents from Space large grant (NE/K011006/1), and the Earthquakes without Frontiers project (NE/J01978X/1).

Juliet Biggs receives 2017 AGU Geodesy Section Award

COMET scientist Juliet Biggs will receive the 2017 Geodesy Section Award at this year’s American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans.Juliet Biggs, recipient of the 2017 Geodesy Section Award.The award recognises Juliet’s outstanding contributions to the field of satellite geodesy for understanding both active volcanism and faulting.

On receiving the award, she said: “Many of the previous AGU Geodesy Section Award winners have been role models for me personally, and seeing my name among them is truly humbling.”

You can read the full article on the AGU’s Eos website.

Andy Hooper receives 2016 AGU Macelwane Medal

Congratulations to COMET scientist Professor Andy Hooper, who has been awarded the American Geophysical Union (AGU) James B. Macelwane Medal in recognition of his contributions to the geophysical sciences.


Established in 1961, the medal is given to outstanding early career scientists who have shown depth, breadth, impact, creativity and novelty in their research.

Professor Hooper, who is also Co-Director of the Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics at University of Leeds, pioneered the development of new software (StaMPS) to extract ground displacements from time series of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) acquisitions.  StaMPS is now used widely across the Earth Observation community.

He also discovered a new link between ice cap retreat and volcanism via geodetic monitoring from space and subsequent modelling of the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruptions, and played a significant role in the €6m FUTUREVOLC project, leading the long-term deformation effort to integrate space and ground based observations for improved monitoring and evaluation of volcanic hazards.

Alongside other COMET researchers, he was part of a team contributing to the international scientific response to the earthquake which devastated Nepal in April 2015.

Most recently, working with colleagues from Iceland, he has shed new light on how volcanoes collapse during major eruptions, focusing on the 2014-15 eruption at Bárdarbunga.

Eruption column and lava flow from the air on 22 September 2014. Credit:Thórdís Högnadóttir
Eruption column and lava flow at Bárdarbunga, 22 September 2014. Credit: Thórdís Högnadóttir

Professor Hooper will be presented with the award at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting, where he will also be giving a talk at the Union Session focusing on the new generation of scientists, where he will also be conferred an AGU fellow.

Congratulations Andy from all your colleagues at COMET.

Read more about the latest AGU awards

Dr Paola Crippa awarded L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Fellowship

COMET Research Associate Dr Paola Crippa, from the University of Newcastle, has been awarded a prestigious L’Oréal-UNESCO National For Women In Science Fellowship.

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This programme encourages greater participation of women in science across the globe by promoting and rewarding outstanding female postdoctoral researchers.

One of five winners, Paola was selected by a jury of eminent scientists, chaired by Professor Pratibha Gai who was L’Oréal’s International Laureate in 2013.

Her research, focusing on particulate matter transportation and implications for human health,  integrates model results with satellite data to more accurately predict population exposure to harmful concentrations of particulate matter.

Paola will not only benefit from financial support for her research, but also a raft of career and life enhancing experiences such as media training, personal impact coaching, speaking opportunities, networking events and access to senior mentors and role models.

Congratulations Paola from all at COMET.




Professor James Jackson Awarded CBE in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Congratulations to COMET’s James Jackson who has received a CBE for his services to environmental science.

Professor James Jackson

As well as being Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge, James was one of the founding members of COMET and has been a major contributor to its ongoing success.

James has pioneered the combination of earthquake source seismology, geomorphology, space geodesy and remote sensing to examine how the continents are deforming, looking at scales that range from single earthquakes to the vast continental areas of active plate movement such as Africa, Iran and the Aegean.

He is also currently leading the Earthquakes without Frontiers (EwF) project, which brings together Earth and social scientists, science communicators, policy makers and local and regional organisations to increase resilience to earthquakes in countries across Asia.

 Following the devastating earthquakes earlier this year, the EwF team has been working with colleagues in Nepal with a view to improving resilience to future earthquakes, not just in Nepal and neighbouring countries, but also for earthquake-prone nations across the globe.

COMET Director Tim Wright said “James has had a huge influence on many of us as a scientist, teacher, and colleague, and I congratulate him on this latest award ”.

Earlier this month, James also received the Wollaston Medal, the highest award given by the Geological Society.

Well done James from all at COMET, we wish you continued success.

Notes:  Professor James Jackson is Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge and also a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).  You can read more about James and his work here.

COMET Director receives Rosentiel Award

COMET Director Tim Wright has been selected as the 2015 Rosentiel Award Recipient by the University of Miami (UM) in recognition of his research into deformation of the Earth’s crust in response to tectonic forces.

The Rosenstiel Award honours scientists who, in the past decade, have made significant and growing impacts in their field.  Tim’s major achievements include the discovery of a continental rifting event in Ethiopia’s Afar region, one of the few places on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge comes ashore.

He was also one of the first scientists to measure how plate boundary zones deform, solely relying on satellite observations using a technique called satellite radar interferometry.

Tim presented the 2015 Rosenstiel Award Lecture, “Witnessing the Birth of Africa’s New Ocean” at the UM Rosenstiel School auditorium on Friday 3 April.

You can read more here.

COMET wins Geol Soc 2015 awards

Two COMET scientists are to receive prestigious awards from the Geological Society of London.

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The Society, which has been recognising significant achievements in the Earth sciences since 1831, will be presenting its Wollaston Medal (its highest award, for impacts on pure or applied geology) to COMET’s James Jackson, Professor of Active Tectonics at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Jackson’s work includes research into active tectonics in New Zealand, Iran, Turkey, Greece and Tibet, where he has made vital contributions to understanding the evolution and deformation of the continents, from individual faults to mountain belts.

Professor Geoff Wadge of the University of Reading will meanwhile receive the Murchison Medal, awarded to geologists who have contributed significantly to ‘hard’ rock studies.   Professor Wadge is being recognised for his contributions to geology and remote sensing, including research into volcanology, Caribbean tectonics, and volcanic hazards and risk assessment. The awards will be presented by Geological Society President Professor David Manning at President’s Day on 3 June 2015.


Austin Elliott joins COMET from UC Davis

A warm welcome to Austin Elliott who has just arrived in Oxford to take up a postdoctoral position in remote sensing and field investigations of active faulting and past earthquakes with Dr Richard Walker & Prof Barry Parsons.  Austin is well known for his AGU blog Trembling Earth in which he covers the latest earthquakes. He was previously a PhD student at UC Davis in <a href="http://geology.ucdavis ou acheter viagra sans”>Earth & Planetary Sciences.