Following the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti on January 12th, scientists have been scrambling to obtain satellite data to provide updated views of the situation on the ground.
Major earthquakes can make current maps-out-of-date very suddenly, causing additional challenges to rescue workers on the ground. Earth observation satellite images can help rescue efforts by providing updated views of how the landscape and infrastructure has changed.
On January 15th, scientists released the first satellite maps of Haiti post-quake, which are constantly updated as new data arrives. They are compared with situation maps generated from archived satellite data to distinguish which areas have been hardest hit, and to identify passable routes for relief and rescue workers. They can also be used to spot areas suitable for setting up camps where medical support and shelter can be provided.
To meet requirements of the rescue teams, very high resolution imagery is needed from both optical and radar sensors. Radar satellites are able to peer through clouds – a huge asset when weather conditions are unfavourable for optical sensors – and resulting imagery can identify hazards such as landslides that might be triggered by earthquakes. This is perhaps especially important since the quake was followed by several aftershocks with magnitudes over 5.0.
The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters – known as The Charter – aims to provide free and unrestricted access satellite data to support the relief effort in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster, such as the Haiti earthquake. It has been collaborating with the Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security’s SAFER project to produce damage maps of the area.
Imagery is being acquired from Japan’s ALOS, CNES’s Spot-5, the USA’s WorldView and Quickbird, Canada’s RADARSAT-2 and ESA’s ERS-2 and Envisat, and complemented by data from Germany’s TerraSar-X, Italy’s COSMO-SkyMed, South Korea’s KOMPSAT-2 and the US-based Geo-Eye-1.
The Charter – founded in 2000 – has 10 members: the French Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Geological Survey, the Argentine Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the British National Space Centre/Disaster Monitoring Constellation and the China National Space Administration.
If you would like to donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Haiti Earthquake Appeal, please visit www.dec.org.uk