The project

Terrafirma is one of a number of Service Element projects being run by the European Space Agency under the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative. Terrafirma harnesses the unique power of satellite radar (revolutionary remote sensing technique of Persistent Scatterer Interferometry or PSI) to detect and measure Earth-surface terrain motion. Terrafirma aims to provide a Pan-European ground motion information service in each of the 27 member states of the EU, which provides identification, assessment, understanding and monitoring of ground motions in the following thematic areas:

•  Tectonics

•  Flood

•  Hydrogeology (including abandoned and inactive mines as well as landslides)

These data, acquired 800 Km above the Earth’s surface, in combination with geophysical expertise by national geoscience organisations, are delivered to users with the objective to help:

•  Identify hazards

•  Improve safety, and

•  Mitigate risk

The results provide unique, wide-area maps of ground and building motion that can be difficult if not impossible to detect by conventional means. The service currently focuses on urban subsidence and landslides but will eventually include earthquake zones, coastlines and flood plains.

Targets and Aims

Terrain motion can be related to subsidence, landslides, tectonic activity, flooding, coastal erosion, unstable buildings and infrastructure, and even poor engineering standards. Many of these phenomena and their associated hazards are made worse by the effects of rapid climate change. The socio-economic cost of terrain motion across Europe runs into tens of billions of euros a year, and is becoming higher as populations increase, cities become larger, resources become scarcer and the climate becomes more unstable.

Terrafirma, an ESA GMES project aimed at providing civil protection agencies, disaster management organisms, and coastal, rail and motorway authorities with support in the process of risk assessment and mitigation by using the latest technology to measure terrain motion from satellite radar data. It supports policies aimed to protect citizens.


Altamira Information, as Project Manager, is responsible for coordinating a consortium of 20 European experts in Earth Observation, geological surveys, and specialists in tectonics, flooding, landslides and hydrogeology.