Starting Dec. 28, 2019, Puerto Rico was shaken by a series of hundreds of small earthquakes that culminated on Jan. 7 with a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake. This earthquake caused widespread damage to infrastructure, leaving more than 2,000 people in shelters, nearly 1 million without power, and hundreds of thousands without water.
NASA quickly mobilized to provide its expertise and satellite Earth-observing data in support of the response and recovery for this disaster. A team in the agency’s Earth Science Disasters Program began collecting information and coordinating with stakeholders, university partners, and the federal agencies leading the response effort. Agencies included the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.
Damage proxy maps show structures that were likely damaged by the earthquake in red and yellow. The Ponce region of Puerto Rico is shown on Jan. 9 (above). The Guanica region is shown on Jan. 14 (below). Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ESA
Several data products in support of the disaster response are posted in geographic information system (GIS) format on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal, which allows the data to be more easily analyzed by other agencies and researchers.
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, have used Synthetic Aperture Radar data from several recent European Space Agency-operated Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite overpasses of the region to identify potential damage to structures and displacement of the surface. Damage proxy maps can be used to identify damaged structures. Displacement maps show shifts in land surface due to the tectonic activity.
Surface displacement maps highlight the change in elevation caused by the Puerto Rico earthquakes between Jan. 2 and 14. This displacement map from Jan. 14 estimates around 6 inches of surface lowering centered on the Guayanilla Bay in the southern region of Puerto Rico. (Gray area is ocean.) Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ESA
Scientists have conducted preliminary mapping of landslides inferred to have occurred during the period of strong ground shaking related to the Jan. 7 earthquake. One hundred twenty landslides were mapped. They are widely dispersed across the affected area, with the highest concentration in the southwestern portion of the island nearest the epicenter. The landslide team is coordinating directly with the USGS Landslide Hazard program to provide relevant information for site analyses and assessments.
Scientists at the University Space Research Association collaborating with NASA have used satellite data to assess power outage maps. These “Black Marble” maps are being provided to FEMA Region II’s Geospatial Resource Center by USRA’s Earth from Space Institute and are being used to inform response efforts on the ground.
The preliminary map of co-landslides caused by the Jan. 7 earthquake shows the location of 120 landslides with the USGS Peak Ground Acceleration Contours that indicate areas of greatest shaking. Credit: Knoper, Clark, Medwedeff, Townsend, Gong (University of Michigan), Zekkos (University of California Berkeley, Kirschbaum (NASA GSFC)
Preliminary assessment of outdoor illumination conditions before and after the Jan. 7 earthquake are shown in this series of maps. The Jan. 8 map tracks the initial outages after the earthquake. The Jan. 9 and 10 maps show some recovery, particularly in densely populated areas of San Juan, Ponce, and Arecibo. Credit: Universities Space Research Association
NASA has created and provided to emergency response organizations a detailed damage assessment map of the Bahamas based on satellite data after Hurricane Dorian hit the islands earlier this week.
For over a week, a response team from NASA’s Earth Science Disasters Program has worked to create maps of impacts and potential impacts from the storm and make them available to decision makers.
The new damage assessment map used satellite data from the European Union’s Sentinel-1 Copernicus instrument to identify areas (shown in red and yellow) that were likely most affected by the storm’s Category 5 winds and storm surge. The map was created by the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in collaboration with the European Space Agency, the California Institute of Technology and the Earth Observatory of Singapore.
The region shown in the map is Marsh Harbour, a town in the Abaco Islands, a group of Bahamian islands and cays that form a 120-mile–long chain. Marsh Harbour is the commercial center of the Abacos.
NASA’s Disasters Program has also been contacted by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency for assistance in providing high-resolution flood maps. That agency’s disaster response teams are attempting to reach inundated areas, many of which remain inaccessible. This type of map will give Bahamian officials a better understanding of flood impacts and where the help is most urgently needed. – Jim Schultz
As Hurricane Dorian slowly approaches Florida’s Atlantic coast, NASA personnel have engaged with federal, state and local emergency responders in preparation for landfall as soon as Labor Day.
A team of NASA disaster coordinators from the Earth Science Division’s Disasters Program has been activated to work with emergency agencies to determine what NASA information assets derived from satellite data can be provided to help decision makers direct resources and help communities likely to be affected by the storm.
NASA has already created a map of Florida showing current soil moisture conditions to help scientists and response agencies predict the impact of heavy rainfall from Hurricane Dorian on flooding and runoff across the state. The map uses data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. This and other data products are made available from the program’s mapping portal.
Program specialists cull and analyze a wide range of data derived from space-borne instruments to produce visualizations and maps of anything from power outages to the extent of flood waters and damage to ecosystems. Such information can be particularly important for remote areas where on-the-ground observations are difficult to obtain.
On June 1, the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season begins. But worldwide there really is no off-season for these tropical storms; they affect the globe in one way or another year-round.
At NASA, we leverage the power of our views of Earth from space and research aircraft to assist communities around the world as they plan for — and recover from — these severe, often life-threatening, events. Data from NASA’s robust constellation of orbiting satellites and airborne and ground sensors are used to assess, predict and describe disaster impacts to inform the actions of leaders, first responders, and those providing relief.
For example, NASA data visualizations map storm-induced power outages and help responders monitor progress in power restoration. We’re able to supply near-real-time scans of inland surge and flood waters, allowing decision makers to deploy help to those who need it the most. We can also chart widespread damage to vegetation and help monitor ecosystem recovery. This type of information can be crucial, especially for remote areas where in-person observations are difficult.
This year, NASA has already aided in the response to cyclones Idai and Kenneth that hit Mozambique in March and April, respectively. Combined, the storms led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of nearly 180,000. To assist in recovery, we reached out to officials and responders to identify the kinds of information NASA could contribute. We then put together data packages specific to the needs of local officials and national decision makers.
In 2018 we used NASA data to help responders assess the threat of landslides as Hurricane Willa struck Mexico’s southwestern coast in October. Before and after Super Typhoon Yutu made landfall in the Northern Mariana Islands in October, we were able to craft pre- and post-event maps that helped officials analyze the damage across a wide stretch of the island chain.
Communities affected by disasters rely on the efforts of humanitarian aid and relief organizations, food and water system groups, weather and climate centers, and telecommunications and re-insurance partners. Because of the information NASA provides to decision makers, those most stricken can be reached and helped more quickly, lessening impacts and speeding the recovery process.
Our goal is to use NASA expertise to anticipate risk and help alleviate projected impacts. In so doing, we will play our part in helping communities improve readiness and sustain resilience.
David Green, Disasters Program Manager, NASA Earth Science Division
Soldiers in Fort Bragg found [NASA’s Black Marble product] useful for locating power outages on the army base. “And soldiers could see any information they needed right from their cell phones…
In September, Hurricane Florence barreled toward the U.S. East Coast bringing powerful wind, rain and catastrophic flooding that devastated cities, towns, and military bases. The U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg, just west of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was one of the hardest-hit areas. During the storm, soldiers at Fort Bragg used NASA’s Disasters Mapping Portal to identify hazardous areas and to assess power outages and residential flooding.
“The Disasters GIS [Geographic Information System] portal was a very effective way to display and disseminate information for those living in an area that was facing a major disaster,” said Chief Jason Feser of the Army Geospatial Center.
The NASA Disasters Mapping Portal hosts collective geospatial data from NASA scientists to hand off through GIS-based tools to emergency managers, first responders, and the public before, during, and after a disaster in a specific location. The use of GIS allows the Disasters Program to provide free and publicly available scientific data in a more user-friendly environment, thus bridging the gap between science and application. Emergency managers are also able to bring in NASA data and combine it with their own national, state, or local datasets to gain a better understanding of potential hazards and inform disaster response.
“The Disasters Portal allows everyone to focus on what they do best,” said Jeremy Kirkendall, NASA Disasters Mapping Portal lead. “NASA’s scientists create the products, we host them, and other agencies can easily find them in a ready-to-use format.”
Among the products Fort Bragg personnel used was NASA’s Black Marble product. Using nighttime imagery from NASA’s Suomi satellite, NASA’s Black Marble provides important information for pre-event and post-event mapping and monitoring of power outages. Black Marble has been used to assess disruptions in energy infrastructure and utility services following major disasters. Soldiers in Fort Bragg found it useful for locating power outages on the army base. “And soldiers could see any information they needed right from their cell phones,” Feser said.
The NASA Disasters Program began coordinating efforts prior to September 11, 2018, before Hurricane Florence’s landfall, and continued monitoring the disaster after the storm made landfall on September 14, 2018. Aside from the U.S. Army, the NASA Disasters program engaged with partners and stakeholders such as FEMA, National Guard Bureau, NOAA, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Department of Interior.
November’s California wildfires, including the Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles and the Camp Fire in Northern California, are now one of the most destructive and deadliest in the state’s history. NASA satellites are observing these fires – and the damage they’re leaving behind – from space.
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, produced new damage maps using synthetic aperture radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites. The first map shows areas likely damaged by the Woolsey Fire as of Sunday, Nov. 11. These maps are provided to various agencies to aid in disaster response. It covers an area of about 50 miles by 25 miles (80 kilometers by 40 kilometers) – framed by the red polygon. The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasing ground surface change, or damage. This ARIA damage proxy map was provided to agencies like FEMA, the California National Guard, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, San Jose Water, California Earthquake Clearinghouse and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to provide an overall damage assessment in the state.
NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) distributes near real-time (NRT) active fire data within 3 hours of a satellite overpass from both the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Natural resource managers need to know where a fire is quickly to be able to prepare for and respond to a wildfire event. NASA FIRMS NRT helps to visualize the location of a fire in a timely manner for individuals like Natural Resource Managers or others who are directly impacted by wildfires.
The International Day of Disaster Reduction 2018 is on October 13, and NASA is marking the occasion by sharing highlights of how we provide data to support disaster reduction and help improve recovery efforts. The NASA Disasters Team, a part of the Applied Sciences Program within NASA’s Earth Science Division, promotes the use of streamed data to prepare for, respond to and recover from natural and technological disasters. The NASA Disasters team targets a spectrum of disasters including floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and oil spills, as well as assesses hazards to vulnerable populations and livelihoods.
Here’s a few ways in which the Disasters Team is working to reduce risk:
NASA’s AIRS instrument was used to support disaster risk reduction by providing critical information to Florida emergency managers on the impact of wind direction and speed before Hurricane Michael made landfall.
NASA’s ARIA team created damage proxy maps after the Palu, Indonesia earthquake. These images help governments and responders identify areas that experienced significant damage and allocate resources accordingly to reduce risk.
To support disaster risk reduction NASA developed an airborne radar mission to give agencies like FEMA and the U.S. Forest Service a much-needed view of floodwaters that threatened areas in North Carolina and South Carolina.
NASA used its Black Marble technology to pinpoint where the lights went out after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Knowing where the power is out-and how long the power has been out-allowed first responders to better deploy rescue and repair crews and to distribute life-saving supplies.
NASA has been tracking Florence since it began moving toward the East Coast of the United States and continued to monitor the storm as it inched across the Carolinas and farther inland. The space agency’s Earth Science Disasters Program is sparing no available resource in working to keep disaster responders and agencies such as FEMA and the National Guard informed with the latest information to assist in decisions on everything from evacuations to supply routes and recovery estimates. Products can be found on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the ways NASA has been monitoring the storm and its repercussions:
LAND, ATMOSPHERE NEAR REAL-TIME CAPABILITY FOR EOS
NASA’s Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (Earth Observing System) (LANCE) provides data and imagery from Terra, Aqua, Aura, Suomi NPP, and GCOM-W1 satellites in less than three hours from satellite observation to meet the needs of the near real-time applications community. LANCE leverages existing satellite data processing systems in order to provide such products from select EOS instruments. These data meet the timely needs of applications such as numerical weather and climate prediction, forecasting and monitoring natural hazards, agriculture, air quality, and disaster relief.
ARIA FLOOD EXTENT MAPS
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created a flood extent map from Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar data acquired 12 hours after Hurricane Florence made landfall. The map, which was pushed to FEMA’s SFTP server (and is available to download), depicts areas of the Carolinas in light blue pixels that are likely flooded.
Media reports provided anecdotal preliminary validation. This map was cross-validated with ARIA’s earlier flood proxy map. This flood proxy map should be used as guidance to identify areas that are likely flooded, and may be less reliable over urban and vegetated areas.
To overcome that limitation, NASA’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument aboard NASA’s C-20A aircraft is slated to fly over flooded areas to validate and improve these maps as well as provide near real-time imagery to assist local, state and federal partners.
For example, barrier islands and the immediate coastlines have borne the brunt of the storm surge and wind damage, resulting in the destruction of property along the coastline. UAVSAR imagery will help to clarify areas that have been impacted. Rapid acquisition of UAVSAR imagery revealing damaged homes and infrastructure provides higher spatial resolution details to complement “damage proxy maps” and other change detection approaches applied from routinely collected imagery or special collections from international partners.
VISIBLE INFRARED IMAGING RADIOMETER SUITE
The Day/Night Band sensor of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the Suomi-National Polar-orbiting Partnership and Joint Polar Satellite System satellite platforms (both NOAA partnerships) provide global daily measurements of nocturnal visible and near-infrared light. The VIIRS Black Marble product suite detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared, including city lights and lights from other activity.
On September 14, 2018 North Carolina officials said the number of power outages due to Florence was more than half a million. The NASA Black Marble product suite has been used to assess disruptions in energy infrastructure and utility services following major disasters. The night-time imageries are useful for pre-event and post-event mapping and monitoring of power outages in cloud-free conditions.
SATELLITES MAKE WEATHER MONITORING POSSIBLE
NASA relies heavily on its fleet of Earth-orbiting satellites as well as satellites from partner institutions for data that feeds into critical weather and climate models. Below is a summary of a few of those assets:
ATMOSPHERIC INFRARED SOUNDER
Aboard the Aqua satellite, the agency’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), was able to capture three-dimensional images of the storm’s approach by sensing emitted microwave and infrared radiation. Warm colors in the infrared image (red, orange, yellow) show areas with little cloud cover, while cold colors (blue, purple) show areas covered by clouds at high, cold altitudes. The darker the color, the colder and higher the clouds and the stronger the thunderstorms. In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these atmospheric observations are assimilated into operational prediction centers around the world to improve hurricane path prediction and other forecasts.
Another powerful instrument aboard the Aqua satellite (the same instrument is also aboard Aqua’s “twin” satellite, Terra) is the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). Aqua and Terra work in tandem to image the entire globe once every one to two days, which allows MODIS to capture a sweeping picture of any number of Earth dynamics, including storms, through its 36 spectral bands, or groups of wavelengths.
Here, a MODIS image of Florence is shown with a cross-section of the storm taken on the same day by NASA’s Cloudsat satellite. The CloudSat pass offers a unique view of Florence’s asymmetrical structure, the intense convection and rainfall churning inside the storm, and a complex vertical cloud structure that is not visible from above. The storm’s clouds reached an altitude of about 15 kilometers (9 miles) at their highest point—fairly high for a tropical cyclone. The darkest blues represent areas where clouds and raindrops reflected the strongest signal back to the satellite radar. These areas had the heaviest precipitation and the largest water droplets. The blue horizontal line across the data is the melting level; ice particles were present above it, raindrops below it.
MULTI-ANGLE IMAGING SPECTRORADIOMETER
Global multi-angle imagery of the sunlit Earth is the specialty of the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. The instrument takes seven minutes to capture images from all nine of its cameras to observe the same location. MISR can reveal areas of high cloud cover associated with strong thunderstorms as well as spot powerful outer rain bands, which can sometimes spawn tornadoes.
SOIL MOISTURE ACTIVE PASSIVE
Managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and in coordination with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the polar-orbiting Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite plays a key role in forecasting flooding conditions. SMAP measures the amount of water in the top 5 centimeters (2 inches) of soil everywhere on Earth’s surface every 2 to 3 days. This permits changes of soil moisture around the world to be observed over time scales ranging from the life cycles of major storms to repeated measurements of changes over entire seasons. SMAP is also capable of estimating wind speeds over the ocean, as shown in the image above.
INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION ASSIST
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been snapping images of Florence with handheld digital cameras throughout the storm’s progression. Once the storm has passed and cloud cover lessens, requests to document flooding and changes to the land surface will be sent to the crew as part of ongoing NASA ISS response to the International Disaster Charter activation for Hurricane Florence. Imagery of this type is then georeferenced by the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Also aboard the ISS is the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), which detects the distribution and variability of total lightning day and night in order to improve severe weather forecasting and further scientific study on the relationship between lightning, clouds, and precipitation. Over a 12-hour period, LIS observed an average of more than 5 lightning flashes every 90 seconds in the vicinity of Hurricane Florence on September 14, 2018.
NASA’s Earth Science Disaster Program is using the vantage point of space to provide important information to disaster responders before and after Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas.
Before the storm makes landfall, the space agency is utilizing data from satellites, such as Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) to home in on areas that are saturated with water and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) to track rainfall rates across the body of the storm, in order to help determine which areas are at greater risk for flooding. The potential for landslides is also evaluated by looking at those factors in addition to land topography.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are also taking advantage of their one-of-a-kind vantage point a few hundred miles above Earth as they snap photos of the hurricane with handheld digital cameras. These wide-field, panoramic images help inform the size, scale, and location of the storm based on the ISS orbital ground track location, and multiple images taken over time relays important data on its evolution and life cycle.
As the storm hits the coasts and marches inland, NASA’s continually updated flood extent maps, derived from radar-based satellites that can “see through” clouds, will identify inundated areas, and the latest in flood modeling will anticipate for decision makers where flooding may occur next. This information is important for a number of decisions pertaining to evacuation routes, supply chains, and resource and relief allocation.
To provide situational awareness for first responders and other government authorities, in the storm’s aftermath NASA will maintain flood extent maps drawn from data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites as well as the Landsat satellite, a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Another tool in the recovery effort is NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Black Marble product suite, which can report daily on whether the power is on over over large swaths of land. Such information is important for understanding the extent of the damage, especially in remote and isolated areas that might not have robust communications systems in place. The technology was demonstrated during the response and recovery efforts following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, as it helped local communities strengthen their resilience by identifying preexisting infrastructure vulnerabilities across the island’s housing, transportation, and energy sectors.
Click here to watch NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and NASA Disasters Program Manager David Green discuss how the space agency is assisting federal and state partners in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Florence.
NASA is tracking lava flows from Hawaii Island’s Kilauea volcano as fissures erupt and lava makes its way to the ocean.
Using data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer, or VIIRS, instrument aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, NASA’s Disaster Program has been tracking thermal anomalies, or hot spots, indicative of lava flow. VIIRS is the only instrument from space that can track lava flows through hot spots, making it an important additional source of information for the U.S. Geological Survey as it monitors and informs the public of the ongoing volcanic activity, which has produced everything from earthquakes and giant rock projectiles from eruptions to blankets of ash clouds and volcanic smog, or vog.
For example, VIIRS captured the above enhanced nighttime image on May 14, 2018, superimposed with hot spots highlighted in red. Multiple hot spots were observed on this satellite overpass near the southeast tip of Hawaii Island. Kilauea volcano is represented by the hot spot to the west.
Zooming in over this area shows that those hot spots were located farther east from Leilani area and were consistent with new fissures observed on the ground.
This VIIRS image from May 22, 2018, shows the extension of the hot spots toward the ocean, indicating that lava is moving toward and warming the ocean upon contact.
In addition to VIIRS, NASA provides other information on volcanic activity, including aerosol and sulfur dioxide measurements derived from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard NASA’s Aura satellite as well as the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite aboard NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, and ground deformation and movement with synthetic aperture radar data.
NASA also organized a field mission with airborne radar to provide accurate digital elevation maps that USGS can use to predict lava path flows. Flown on the G-III research aircraft, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) instrument is detecting changes in Kilauea’s topography associated with the new lava flows, with the goal of measuring the erupted volume as a function of time and ultimately the total volume of the event.