Surface Deformation and Change (SDC)

Deformation measurements, such as Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry (InSAR), are an important tool for understanding the dynamics of earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, glaciers, groundwater and the deep interior; for quantifying the rates and driving processes of sea-level change and landscape change; and for supporting hazard forecasts and disaster impact assessments.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) 2017 Decadal Survey, “Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observations from Space,” recommended a new NASA “Designated” program element to address a set of five high-value Targeted or Designated Observables during the next decadal period. In response to that recommendation, and based on guidance from NASA’s Earth Science Division, a multi-center study team was assembled to perform studies associated with the cost-capped Surface Deformation and Change (SDC) Targeted Observable. The SDC Study has three main objectives:

  1. Identify and characterize a diverse set of observing architectures, including innovative observing systems that have the potential for disrupting the norm for SDC observations.
  2. Assess the ability of each of the architectures to meet SDC objectives, including cost effectiveness.
  3. Perform sufficient in-depth design study of one selected architecture to enable rapid initiation of a Phase A concept study.

To accomplish these objectives, the study team harnessed national expertise in Earth science research, applications, technology, mission formulation and implementation. The team comprises all NASA centers with relevant expertise and engages major stakeholder organizations in government, academia and industry.

SDC Focus Groups

As part of the Study, four focus groups refined the SDC-related science and applications goals in their respective disciplines. The groups are listed below.  If you are interested, have any questions on the work of the focus groups,  please email the contacts at the bottom of the page..

  • Cryosphere 
  • Ecosystems 
  • Hydrology 
  • Solid Earth and Geohazards 


Find out more about the SDC architectures.

In this reference document, you will see a description of the SDC candidate mission architectures that resulted from a down-selection performed by the Architectures, the Value Framework, and the Research and Applications SDC teams, based on the value framework used to assess them. In addition to a description, a user guide, and requested Future Community Contribution for each candidate architecture are also included.

Find out more about the science and application needs that guide the SDC architecture design process.

This study report captures the needs and priorities of non-research Earth observation users of SDC data. Focusing on the private sector users, it provides insights to the SDC team on mission design, broadens the team's understanding of applications user communities, and identifies ways in which NASA can engage with these communities.

Workshop goals were to review the Decadal Survey science and application objectives for clarity and completeness, to prioritize SDC measurements needed to advance those science and application objectives, and to refine their measurement parameters.

A technology dialogue co-located with the Space Tech Expo that enabled SDC leadership and technologists to interact with a broad range of experts across mission systems areas to discuss the intersection of SDC needs and current/future capabilities.


For general inquiries or feedback regarding the resources, please send an email to