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Satellite Images

Updated Jun. 19. 2011

Satellite images can reveal the extent of the disaster on a wider scale. The capability of satellite photography to detect non-optical imagery allows this set of photos to reveal various aspects of the disaster.

Images from various satellites

Satellite is the only means to ascertaining the comprehensive overview of the damages caused. Some satellites are suited to securing the overall situation, some for picking up the details, and the radar satellite allows for observation even through overcast. These diverse satellite technology all come together to provide an extensive data for a wide area.

●Inundation assessment of the Tohoku coastal region from the wide-area satellite image
Some satellites, though with limited resolution performance, frequently record images across Japan. This wide-area image was taken around 10:30 on March 14th by the Terra satellite (U.S.). The flooded area is shown in light blue. You can see an enlarged version by clicking on each of the area.

●Inundation assessment with the radar satellite image
The flooded area from the tsunami appears dark as radar wave bounces off the surface and does not send data back to the satellite. By extracting the dark area through an image processing technique, we were able to make an assessment of the extent of the inundation at the time. This radar image was taken with the RADARSAT at 05:38 on March 13. The red mark along the coastal line is considered to be the flooded area.

●Radar satellite images showing the detailed assessment of the affected area
By studying the pre-quake visual data and the post-quake high resolution radar satellite images, we can identify the infrastructural damages in the area to a great detail. This photo was taken at 18:34 on March 12th, one day after the quake with the COSMO-Skymed satellite (Italy). As radars have the ability to detect images through the clouds, despite the poor weather which continued after the quake, they were able to quickly pick up on the extent of the damages in the area.

☆Damages in the city of Rikuzen-takata via radar satellite image (March 12)

☆Damages in the Ofunato city via radar satellite image (March 12)

●Damages in Soma city via high resolution satellite images
The super high resolution satellite images can greatly reveal the details of the post-quake damages which cannot be identified on aerial photos. This image was taken at 10:34 on March 12th, just under 20 hours after the quake, from a 1km resolution over Soma city(Fukuoka. The images show the extent of the destruction and flood damages to houses as well as the spread of debris across the area. The pre-quake tide level is estimated at 0.2m below sea level.

☆Damages in Soma city via high resolution satellite images (false color)

☆Damages in Soma city via high resolution satellite images (true color)

●Damages to cities, Rikuzen-takata and Ofunato, via super high resolution satellite images
This was taken just under two days after the quake at 10:15 on March 13 at a ground resolution of about 50cm by GeoEye satellite. It shows the level of devastation to a great detail such as the flood damages, washed away houses, and the vast amount of debris spread across a wide area. Based on the pre-quake tide level chart, the tide level at this time was about sea level.

(click to enlarge all or parts of the image)

  • 1. Takekoma, Rikuzen-takaka
  • 2. Rikuzen-takata city center
  • 3. Otomo, Rikuzen-takaka
  • 4. Hirota area, Rikuzen-takata
  • 5. Ofunato city center
  • 6. Ofunato port breakwater, Ofunato

Damages to the littoral forest via satellite imagery

Littoral forests play a vital role in disaster prevention by providing protection against wind, sand, and sea water. However, during the last Quake, much of the littoral forest was wiped away by the tsunami. A critical part in reinstating the littoral forest is the damage assessment. The following uses the pre- and post-quake imagery taken by super high resolution satellite, GeoEye-1 and IKONOS to show the parts of the littoral forest and surrounding plants (in yellow) which were wiped away by the tsunami.

☆Rikuzen-takata littoral forest: pre-quake/post-quake/diminished forest & plants

☆Soma city: Pre-/Post-/Diminished parts of the littoral forest

Debris distribution via satellite imagery

One of key challenges in the transition from a rescue to a recovery phase is how to clean up all the debris scattered across the affected area. As vast amount of debris is spread across a wide area, the data on the spread of the debris as well as the ability to monitor the removal process becomes crucial for an organized and efficient removal initiative. The following shows the spread of the debris (shown in red) using the image taken by the super high resolution GeoEye-1 which was put through an image processing technique. Keeping a regular record of this allows for an accurate and efficient effort to clean up the debris.

☆Spread of timber debris in Rikuzen-takata

Extent of the tsunami identified via satellite

This image, taken at 10:34 on March 12, shows how far the tsunami has reach in Soma city, Fukushima. The extent of the inundation caused by the tsunami is shown on the satellite image on the right while the left shows the same but on a topographic map.

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