April 4, 2023

photo of Molly ZebkerMolly Zebker, a fourth-year doctoral student advised by Ann Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and Marc Hesse, a professor at the Jackson School’s Department of Geological Sciences, is the recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) outstanding student presentation award. Winners are selected based on research quality and a student’s ability to effectively communicate their research.

Zebker uses a satellite imaging technique called InSAR, which measures surface deformation, to study a variety of Earth surface processes, including groundwater management.

Zebker said InSAR is a powerful geodetic imaging technique that accurately measures ground deformation with more global coverage than other ground measurement techniques.

“My work specifically includes developing new algorithms to reduce noise in the data. Using high quality data will enable new geophysical applications ranging from effective groundwater management to hazard mitigation to climate research,” Zebker said. “My goal is to demonstrate that spaceborne SAR data plays a critical role in supporting decisions at all levels concerning resource and environmental management by using direct observations to give insight into underlying geophysical processes.”

At the AGU Fall Meeting, Zebker presented InSAR measurements for Central Texas and how deformation in the region’s landscape is connected to oil and gas extraction and groundwater pumping. The findings from her research can be used to measure how much the surface is subsiding, better manage groundwater resources and mitigate seismic hazards from induced seismicity.

Zebker said that she was honored to receive the OSPA and to have her research recognized by the broader scientific community.

“It makes me excited about the direction that my research is going, and it’s always nice to have that kind of validation from esteemed scientists,” she said.

After graduation Zebker hopes to continue her research as a postdoctoral fellow or research scientist to better understand the data and explore new InSAR applications.