Developing Damage Proxy Maps from Satellite Data

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Satellite data has been used to map out the damage done by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and the wildfires that have hit Northern California. The images and data gathered by satellites have allowed researchers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech in California create Damage Proxy Maps, or DPMs. Damage proxy maps show the predicted path of natural disasters and can be used to predict the impact these disasters could have on human populations and ecosystems around the world.

Damage proxy maps use remotely sensed data gathered by the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis, or ARIA system designed by the Jet Propulsion Lab. This technology created the map with images and data gathered from synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, which is used on the Copernicus Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B satellites, operated by the European Space Agency. SAR takes pictures of a certain area from the satellite, and each pixel is about 98 feet across. For Puerto Rico, the SAR picture was used to create an ARIA map that was 105 by 60 miles.

ARIA is an automated system that provides rapid and reliable GPS and satellite data that can be used to coordinate help for areas hit by natural disasters. A map created by ARIA can show a specific geographic region that pinpoints where damage occurred and how bad it was. Ultimately, technologies like ARIA are helpful to relief efforts and humanitarian aid, in addition to creating more accurate models for predicting the impact natural disasters have on certain parts of the world.

Using images gathered before and after the hurricane, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, researchers could indicate the level of change that occurred during the storm. Anecdotal reports were used to corroborate the accuracy of the map. The map is designed to be used as a guide for potential humanitarian efforts, so that organizations and volunteers know where to go first if certain areas were hit harder than others.

The Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech teams created a damage proxy map for the recent fires in Southern California as well. Satellite images were taken that showed the spread of the fires, which researchers were able to form into a damage report that aided fire rescue efforts. The color variation, moving from yellow to red, shows how much change there was on the ground between the before photos and the after images taken by the satellites.

From NASA: Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas in Southern California that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of recent wildfires, including the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, highlighted in the attached image taken from the DPM. The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). The images were taken before (Nov. 28, 2017, 6 a.m. PST) and after (Dec. 10, 2017, 6 a.m. PST) the onset of the fires.

From NASA: Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas in Southern California that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of recent wildfires, including the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, highlighted in the attached image taken from the DPM. The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). The images were taken before (Nov. 28, 2017, 6 a.m. PST) and after (Dec. 10, 2017, 6 a.m. PST) the onset of the fires.

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