Understanding Landslides with Satellite Images and Field Mapping


In May 2016, Serbia experienced some of its heaviest rainfall in a generation. Over the course of just three days, the equivalent of three months’ worth of rain fell, causing devastating floods and landslides. 51 people lost their lives and over 30,000 people had to be evacuated, with extensive damage caused to homes and infrastructure.

One significant challenge for responders was the lack of information about the landslides and that the total number of landslides was understated, which resulted in an inaccurate ‘national landslide inventory’. These inventories typically provide valuable information about the location and severity of a landslide, which then allows for risks to be assessed and for the planning of an appropriate response. In Serbia, there was no national landslide inventory available prior to the disaster and no institutional consensus between governmental and scientific stakeholders responsible for landslides. To facilitate a more systematic response, the BEWARE project commenced, which fused landslide data acquired from field data and satellite imagery. The project’s objective was to assess the damage and to compare it with previous events to assess and prevent risks more efficiently, whilst preparing the local population.


The BEWARE team (Beyond Landslide Awareness) needed detailed satellite based intelligence to produce an accurate assessment of the situation on the ground. One Tasking’s OneNow product was selected as the right imaging product for job, offering instant tasking of a satellite with a high priority. In a first project stage, different scales were used for field mapping and satellite analysis. Over pilot areas, high-resolution Pléiades, as well as the wide-swath SPOT6 satellite were used to acquire images of the area just after the disaster. Based on Pléiades’ high-resolution imagery, an effective method for the data collection was developed, which was validated through field surveys in specific areas. The results were then extrapolated with SPOT6 images, which covers a wider area than the Pléiades images. In a next stage vulnerable areas were identified, which supported the preparation of the local population and risk management to prevent future disasters, where possible.

  • Pléiades and SPOT6 images provided a quick and clear picture of the impacted areas
  • The remote satellite imagery acquisition lowered the project’s overall expenses and time, in contrast to field mapping costs
  • The multi-scale approach using high-resolution Pléiades and wide- swath SPOT images lowered the overall expenses
  • The provided data enabled satellite data pooling and sharing, which will be used to prepare municipalities when facing future landslides and to prepare civil agencies, as well as emergency services to react quicker

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