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Dubai’s satellite enables disaster relief efforts

The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) - participates in UN-SPIDER, a United Nations platform for space-based information for disaster management and emergency response.

Satellite images are useful tools to assist disaster relief teams to determine how to tackle rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of catastrophic natural, or even man-made, events.

In the most devastating aftermath of the tsunami waves that bulldozed their way 10 kms (six miles) inland in Japan on March 11 2011, the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) applied its satellite to help disaster relief teams determine and manage the scale of the event.

When the disaster expanded to the nuclear power stations as a result of one of the most powerful earthquakes Japan has ever experienced, DubaiSat-1 could immediately map the extent of the destruction, across the disaster area that had restricted access by land, sea and air.

Significantly, the satellite was able to capture a massive area that would have been impossible to screen by helicopter or on the ground in the same amount of time.

“When the danger levels rose and people started fearing leaks from the nuclear reactors, these were no-go zones for most people,” says Salem Humaid Al Marri, director of project management & space missions department at EIAST.

“With absolutely no risk of exposure to anyone, our satellite could accurately gauge what was going on at and around the nuclear power stations shortly after the event. We literally saw the extent of the disaster unfolding in front of our eyes,” he adds.

EIAST also participates in UN-SPIDER, a United Nations platform for space-based information for disaster management and emergency response. DubaiSat-1 images are loaded to UN-SPIDER as the images are downloaded by EIAST’s ground team.

“UN-SPIDER allows search and rescue, clean up, and recovery teams to assess from various sources exactly what it is that they are getting into,” says Amer Mohammad AlSayegh, director of space missions at EIAST.

To this extend, EIAST has contributed crisp images of the devastating floods in Pakistan during 2011. EIAST monitoring of affected disaster areas continue even after the event to visually assist for future disaster events in disaster-prone areas.

What satellite images revealed about the 2011 Japanese disaster

DubaiSat-1 took photographs over a two-week period, from March 14 to March 25, of the affected areas following the March 11 tsunami in Japan.

EIAST’s satellite team analysed the images, identifying the flooding that occurred on the banks of the river in the Miyagi Prefecture, as well as on the east coast of the country, in the wake of the tsunami waves.

The images clearly registered the destruction of houses, agricultural land, and a sweeping change in the landscape after the waves pulled away.

The Tagajo port was wiped out, as well as beachfront properties in all affected areas, the debris of which is now washing up 15 months later on the beaches of the USA, including a huge dock (AFP, June 6 2012), possibly from the port itself.

The satellite captured images from the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power station, showing smoke clouds bellowing from the power station.

The EIAST satellite team applied a shadow test to ascertain whether the clouds were indeed smoke, or low clouds, easily confused as being smoke when analysing pictures from a satellite’s altitude. The test revealed that the clouds were smoke, with the shadow of the clouds closer to the power station.

To be certain, the team applied a second test to see if the clouds over Fukishima were thicker, like smoke, or more akin to clouds, to be certain.

“The results confirmed the first test’s findings, and rescue teams could know from this analysis what they were dealing with on the ground,” says Omran Anwar Sharaf, director of space images department at EIAST.