On Thursday 7th September, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck the waters off Mexico’s Southern coast. Affecting the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, the earthquake killed 96 people in the region.
In order to get the first critical information on affected areas and help local authorities quickly react, Airbus’ high-resolution Pléiades satellites were immediately tasked over the impacted region. With multiple tasking plans per day, Pléiades constellation offers an unrivaled optimization of data collection: unforeseen weather changes, as well as last-minute requests, can be taken into account for the first-class level of service.
Detailed and very fresh satellite images were collected and delivered only a few hours after the event struck the Gulf of Tehuantepec. This was thanks to the OneNow tasking option that is ideally suited to plan emergency response on the ground.
The new images were also contrasted with historic images of the areas, allowing experts to understand where private houses, public buildings or infrastructure had been damaged. The images of the city Tonala and Juchitan clearly show the destroyed official Palacio Municipal building, as well as damaged church wall.
It was the strongest earthquake in over a century.
A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck the centre of the Italian peninsular on 24th August. The mountain village of Pescara del Tronto was almost completely destroyed and the town of Amatrice was turned into a pile of rubble in just a few seconds.
Detailed images of the area, and in particular the two towns most affected, urgently needed aid and the appropriate emergency response planning on the ground. The extra-high tasking priority from OneNow option, utilising the high-resolution Pléiades satellites, was the right solution to obtain detailed coverage quickly. The satellite was quickly programmed using GeoStore.
By comparing the captured images of the situation with a Pléiades archive image of 13th July 2015, the impact of the earthquake on buildings and the roads network was immediately visible on the image captured on 25th August 2016, the day after the disaster.
The OneNow tasking option enables information from Pléiades and SPOT6/7 satellite images to be obtained less than 24 hours after the programming request was made on GeoStore (or directly through the customer’s usual Airbus contact). To obtain most useful results, up to three forced satellite acquisitions are proposed to provide coverage of the area of interest at the soonest. If weather conditions are difficult, additional attempts are proposed, until cloud-free coverage is obtained. For the earthquake in Italy, OneNow programming was initiated for three Pléiades acquisitions on 25th, 26th and 27th August 2016. However, it was possible to already identify the extent of the damage on the first acquisition.
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.
Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano dramatically erupted in March 2017, causing ‘phreatic explosions’, which occur when molten lava touches snow. These explosive reactions caused hot stones and steam to be sent into the air at speed, injuring several people with some needing to be evacuated by rescue teams.
Timely coverage of Etna’s eruption
Just before the event, with the eruption expected within hours, Airbus’ Pléiades constellation was tasked to retrieve high-resolution satellite images of the volcano on the day of the eruption; indeed, 50cm products are perfectly suitable to understand the extent of the area affected and perform an impact analysis. Tasked just one day before the eruption, Airbus’ OneNow option, specifically designed to respond to emergency needs, was identified as the most appropriate solution; The Pléiades satellite resource was booked for a high priority acquisition over the volcano on the 18th of March.
Shortly after acquisition, the acquired images were immediately delivered to the customer. On the images, the lava flow and smoke could be easily identified on the collected images providing the client with most suitable information to assess the situation on the ground.