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Earth observation satellites used to help Haiti relief efforts

Logistics on the ground in Haiti have been a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims and for relief workers too.

But agencies around the world are grasping at every available tool to help the relief efforts — including the use of Earth observation satellites. Following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti Jan. 12, international agencies requested satellite data of the area from the International Charter on “Space and Major Disasters,” according to reports from Earth & Climate

The Charter — an international initiative aimed at providing satellite data free of charge to those affected by disasters anywhere in the world — immediately began re-tasking satellites to get the data urgently needed. They are being collected by various satellites, including Japan’s ALOS, the U.S.’s WorldView and QuickBird, Canada’s RADARSAT-2 and China’s HJ-1-A/B.

These data are processed into maps that show the degree of destruction. You can see one of the first maps here.

Very High Resolution images from Earth observation satellites can help rescue efforts by providing updated views of how the landscape and the infrastructure have been affected. They can help generate emergency maps to provide rescue services with an overview of the altered state of the area.

Among other uses, rescue teams can compare new maps with older ones to spot major changes on the ground. And while aftershocks still shake the region, radar imagery can be used to identify hazards such as landslides that may be triggered by these lesser earthquakes

“Comparison of the maps from before and after the event allows areas that have been hit hardest to be distinguished and identify passable routes for relief and rescue workers,” the report said. “Additionally, they can help to identify areas which are suitable for setting up aid camps where medical support and shelter can be provided to people.”

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