Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geological Sciences

First Advisor

James P. M. Syvitski

Second Advisor

Irina Overeem

Third Advisor

Robert S. Anderson

Fourth Advisor

Katja Friedrich

Fifth Advisor

George R. Brakenridge


This thesis addresses the need for high-resolution subsidence maps of major world river deltas. Driven by a combination of rising water, sediment compaction, and reduced sediment supply due to damming and flood control, many deltas are sinking relative to sea level. A lack of data constraining rates and patterns of subsidence has made it difficult to determine the relative contributions of each factor in any given delta, however, or to assess whether the primary drivers of land subsidence are natural or anthropogenic. In recent years, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) has emerged as a satellite-based technique that can map ground deformation with mm-scale accuracy over thousands of square kilometers. These maps could provide critical insight into the drivers of subsidence in deltas, but InSAR is not typically applied to non-urban delta areas due to the difficulties of performing the technique in wet, vegetated settings. This thesis addresses those difficulties and achieves high-resolution measurements of ground deformation in rural deltaic areas. Chapter 1 introduces the processes that drive relative sea level rise in river deltas and investigates open questions in delta subsidence research. Chapter 2 assesses the performance of InSAR in delta settings and reviews interferogram generation in the context of delta analysis, presenting delta-specific processing details and guiding interpretation in these challenging areas. Chapter 3 applies Differential (D-) InSAR to the coast of the Yellow River Delta in China. Results show that subsidence rates are as high as 250 mm/y due to groundwater extraction at aquaculture facilities, a rate that exceeds local and global average sea level rise by nearly two orders of magnitude and suggests a significant hazard for Asian megadeltas. Chapter 4 applies interferometric stacking and Small Baseline Subset (SBAS)-InSAR to the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, Bangladesh. Results show that stratigraphy controls subsidence in this delta, with concentrated local deformation surrounding Dhaka caused by compaction of the youngest strata. Chapter 5 summarizes and concludes this thesis.