Natural Disasters Overview
Is the worldwide frequency of natural disasters actually going up, or are increasingly crowded and interconnected human societies becoming more susceptible to them? Major catastrophes are currently occurring once a fortnight on average.
In recent years Earth Observation satellites have become a new asset at the disposal of emergency response teams. Satellites can perform rapid damage-mapping to help guide rescue efforts.
Such help was given on an informal basis for many years, but formalised in 2000 when ESA, CNES and CSA formed the ‘International Charter - Space and Major Disasters’ – an agreement to prioritise image acquisition over disaster zones. A decade on the Charter has 11 member space agencies worldwide. As well as Charter activations supporting short-term disaster response, satellites have broader applications for disaster recovery. Different sensors have different strengths: optical images for damage-mapping – medium-resolution for a snapshot of overall effects, with higher-resolution acquisitions depicting damage to road networks or even individual buildings – while imaging radar has particular sensitivity to floods and waterlogged ground and imaging spectrometers or radiometers can show forest fire plumes, burnt scars or currently burning ‘hotspots’.
Natural Disasters News
29 August 2016
On 24 August, an earthquake struck central Italy, claiming at least 290 lives and causing widespread damage. Satellite images are being used to help emergency aid organisations, while scientists have begun to analyse ground movement.
08 July 2016
ESA and China have launched the fourth phase of the collaborative Dragon programme in Wuhan City, on the Yangtze River, which recently experienced major floods witnessed by Europe's Sentinel-1 satellite.
Specific Topics on Natural Disasters
In addition to the known desert regions of the world there are an increasing number of areas in which the risk of desertification is growing. In these areas prediction techniques are of crucial importance to planning and aid authorities.
The tragic consequences of both earthquake and volcanic activity are obvious, their monitoring and timely mapping is essential to aid rescue efforts. While improved prediction is aimed at reducing the impact of any such an event.
The identification of fire hot spots and the spread of fire events from satellite is used not only in the natural environment but also for fires linked to industrial disasters.
The increasing number of intense meteorological events means that flood events are more frequent. Their monitoring is essential to rescue and civil defence authorities, whilst mapping of their extent is widely by insurance companies.
The timely prediction of a hurricane's path is essential to the reduction of human loss and damage of infrastructure and property. The continuity and timeliness provided by satellite meteorological data for modelling is crucial in this process.
The mapping of the extent of damage caused by large landslides is crucial to the recovery services. A large amount of work is however aimed particularly at the study of prediction and prevention of such events
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