On 16 April 2016, an earthquake measuring a 7.8 magnitude struck Ecuador. Among other cities, the coastal town of Pedernales, which was in close proximity to the epicentre, was severely impacted, with several houses and buildings destroyed. Following the event’s news, Airbus’ Pléiades satellite constellation was immediately tasked to collect the most up to date information of the situation.
The OneNow tasking option, especially designed to answer emergency needs, was urgently activated to acquire Pléiades images of the situation.
The GeoStore web portal was used to instantly access satellite resources: The OneNow tasking option, especially designed to answer emergency needs, was urgently activated to acquire Pléiades images of the situation. On the same day at 16:10pm, just after the tasking plan was updated, an automatic notification confirming the planned acquisition attempt and time was sent to the client.
Only two hours after, at 18:04 pm, the satellite passed over the area of interest, with the image becoming available at 22:13 pm. It took just 4 hours and 9 minutes from image acquisition to the delivery of the fully processed image, providing the customer with visibility of the area on the very same day the order was placed. Using the provided Pléiades’ very high-resolution images, the damage was clearly visible – facilitating detailed insights due to the 50cm products and enabling the planning of an appropriate emergency response.
On November the 5th 2015, the Fundão mining dam in Brazil failed for an unknown reason, causing one of the most serious ecological disasters the country has ever seen. The dam, which is located 500km north of Rio de Janeiro, was holding toxic sludge and mineral waste from a nearby iron mine. More than 60 million cubic metres of mud was spilt when the dam failed and this volume of unexpected material resulted in the failure of a second dam located below, further exasperating the issue.
Bento Rodrigues, a village located just two kilometres from the dam, was ravaged by the mudslide, killing 13 people and leaving more than 50 people injured. The toxic mudslide eventually joined the second largest river in Brazil, the Rio Doce, and then the ocean, killing thousands of fish and depriving half a million of people clean drinking water.
How do we respond?
When an unexpected disaster, such as this occurs, authorities need immediate visibility of the situation on the ground to enable an appropriate response to be planned and executed. The International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ aims at providing precisely that. It is a unique, global collective of 16 space agencies, initiated in July 1999 by the European (ESA) and French (CNES) space agencies. Airbus DS Intelligence is one of its historical partners. It responds to the Charter objectives in using satellites to rapidly collect and disseminate imagery, to provide local and national authorities with the intelligence they require to plan an effective emergency response and mitigate the humanitarian impact of a disaster.
Each member space agency has committed resources to The International Charter, giving authorised users access to a unique pool of know-how and satellites resources, which can be tasked through the Charter’s dedicated online portal, 24/7, at no cost for the user.
The Pléiades constellation was selected due to its ability to acquire and deliver imagery in near real-time – therefore offering the most suitable solution for fast and useful results.
On the 8th of November 2015, The International Charter was triggered by INPE (the Brazilian Space Agency), on behalf of CENAD (Brazilian National Risk and Disaster Management Agency). Among several optical satellites requested by the International Charter, Airbus tasked the very high-resolution Pléiades satellite constellation, using its unique OneNow option, to retrieve images of the area surrounding the Fundão mining dam, in order to identify the extent of the disaster and help the response activity. The Pléiades constellation was selected due to its ability to acquire and deliver imagery in near real-time – therefore offering the most suitable solution for fast and useful results.
Once tasked, Pléiades faced a challenge due to heavy cloud cover over the area of interest. Thanks to OneNow option, Airbus delivers three acquisitions in the shortest timeframe and in case of difficult weather conditions, the activated satellite constellation insists in collecting the area until successful images are obtained: extra top-priority acquisitions are made to provide urgently a clear view of the situation: the first Pléiades image of the dam was thus acquired on the 11th November. 6 mapping products, based on several Pléiades images acquired in two days, were processed by CENAD and helped them to develop an appropriate response to the disaster.
In January 2017, Chile declared the ‘state of emergency’, when the South American country experienced the worst wildfires in its history. More than 100 fires raged through central and southern Chile, spreading uncontrollably across the region, endangering lives and leading to the evacuation of thousands of local people. Strong winds made the situation even more severe – access to the latest imagery-based intelligence, detailing all potentially affected areas and the current situation on the ground, was essential.
THE SOLUTION & RESULT
To support the Chilean government’s response, Airbus immediately activated the wide swath SPOT 6/7 satellite constellation using its OneNow tasking option. In a first instance, near real-time imagery were acquired over the huge area of 233,623 km2. In a second stage the acquisition focused on some priority regions. SPOT 6/7 images enabled the identification and location of specific fires; the images were used to understand where further evacuations were necessary and to plan an effective response strategy.
The Airbus’ constellation’s daily revisit capability and high-resolution satellites were used to track damage caused over time and organise recovery operations.
Following the initial acquisition, the Airbus’ constellation’s daily revisit capability and high-resolution satellites were used to track damage caused over time and organise recovery operations. OneNow tasking option takes up to three top-priority collections and rush deliveries on a daily basis and in the shortest possible timeframe. This means as soon as the satellite passes the area of interest, an image is immediately acquired and delivered. If cloud cover is still an issue after the first three attempts, Airbus’ constellation continues acquiring images of the area with the highest collection priority to provide the client with the best reactivity and freshest information. This flexibility and commitment to providing useful results helped Chile’s regional governments to plan their emergency response with the most accurate information, protecting the population and reducing the long-term environmental impact from the incident.