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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), formerly known as the Millennium Dam, is currently under construction and has been filling at a fast rate without sufficient known analysis on possible impacts on the body of the structure. The filling of GERD not only has an impact on the Blue Nile Basin hydrology, water storage and flow but also poses massive risks in case of collapse. Rosaries Dam located in Sudan at only 116 km downstream of GERD, along with the 20 million Sudanese benefiting from that dam, would be seriously threatened in case of the collapse of GERD. In this study, through the analysis of Sentinal-1 satellite imagery, we show concerning deformation patterns associated with different sections of the GERD’s Main Dam (structure RCC Dam type) and the Saddle Dam (Embankment Dam type). We processed 109 descending mode scenes from Sentinel-1 SAR imagery, from December 2016 to July 2021, using the Differential Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry technique to demonstrate the deformation trends of both—the GERD’s Main and Saddle Dams. The time series generated from the analysis clearly indicates different displacement trends at various sections of the GERD as well as the Saddle Dam. Results of the multi-temporal data analysis on and around the project area show inconsistent subsidence at the extremities of the GERD Main Dam, especially the west side of the dam where we recorded varying displacements in the range of 10 mm to 90 mm at the crest of the dam. We conducted the current analysis after masking the images with a coherence value of 0.9 and hence, the subsequent results are extremely reliable and accurate. Further decomposition of the subsiding rate has revealed higher vertical displacement over the west side of the GERD’s Main Dam as compared to the east side. The local geological structures consisting of weak zones under the GERD’s accompanying Saddle Dam adds further instability to its structure. We identified seven critical nodes on the Saddle Dam that match the tectonic faults lying underneath it, and which display a varying degree of vertical displacements. In fact, the nodes located next to each other displayed varying displacement trends: one or more nodes displayed subsidence since 2017 while the other node in the same section displayed uplift. The geological weak zones underneath and the weight of the Saddle Dam itself may somewhat explain this inconsistency and the non-uniform vertical displacements. For the most affected cells, we observed a total displacement value of ~90 mm during the whole study period (~20 mm/year) for the Main Dam while the value of the total displacement for the Saddle dam is ~380 mm during the same period (~85 mm/year). Analysis through CoastSat tool also suggested a non-uniformity in trends of surface water-edge at the two extremities of the Main Dam.


This article was originally published in Remote Sensing, volume 13, issue 21, in 2021.

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