Pre-collapse monitoring of Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine

Satellite image of the Kukhova Dam, Ukraine. Photo: Umbra Space
Satellite image of the Kukhova Dam, Ukraine. Photo: Umbra Space

New findings from a spaceborne monitoring team of University of Houston, TU Delft and DLR indicates the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine may have been already ongoing before the war with Russia, with deformations in the dam pre-dating the actual collapse. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment this month.

On June 6, 2023, a substantial portion of the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine suffered a collapse while under Russian control. This dam was vital for water management and hydroelectric power generation. Russia had seized the dam early into its invasion of Ukraine, and though independent investigations concluded that Russia blew it up to prevent a counterattack from Ukraine, Russia has denied responsibility. New findings of the research team shows deformations in the dam already existed before the actual collapse, providing valuable insights into its stability.

-Through our analysis, we observed displacements characterizing different segments of the dam, up to two years prior to the actual collapse,- reports Pietro Millio, UH assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Houston in the Nature paper. In the article, the researchers present the results of a methodology called InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) which measures infrastructure deformation from space with millimetric accuracy using radar images of the Earth’s surface collected from orbiting satellites.

The findings came about while the team was conducting a study monitoring the stability of infrastructure during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By leveraging spaceborne technology, the team uncovered previously unseen details of the pre-collapse of the dam and detected movements and deformations in the dam years before the collapse, providing valuable insights into its stability.

-Current hypotheses ascribe the collapse of the dam to an explosion that occurred on June 6, 2023. Although our analysis cannot exclude an explosion that occurred on that date, they can identify existing damage mechanisms that might have affected the dam before its collapse,- said Milillo.

Milillo said that the data in the study support the hypothesis that the structure was moving downward since June 2021. -With the beginning of the war, neglected dam maintenance and operations might have destabilized the structure over specific areas, favoring the development of the above-mentioned mechanisms,- he said.

Measuring stability of infrastructure from space

The research not only offers valuable insights into the deformations affecting the Kakhovka Dam but also underscores the potential of InSAR as a proactive monitoring tool for infrastructure stability assessment, says Giorgia Giardina of TU Delft.

-As the world faces increasing challenges related to climate change and geopolitical instability, such studies pave the way for more informed decision-making processes and enhanced risk assessment strategies. InSAR’s ability to detect and quantify ground movements with high precision and over extended periods of time contributes to enhanced risk assessment, forensic engineering activities and informed decision-making processes.

"This study highlights the significance of proactive monitoring and the role of remote sensing in ensuring the safety and integrity of critical infrastructureagreed lead author Amin Tavakkoliestahbanati, co-author and graduate student in Geosensing System Engineering in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at UH. -Our findings emphasize the importance of continuous surveillance to detect and address potential risks before they escalate into catastrophic events.-

For more information and questions, you can contact TU Delft press officer Karlijn Spoor: or by 6-41612272