Minimize Natural Disasters

Natural disasters claim thousands of lives every year, and can cause so much damage that the worst-affected countries require years of recovery.

Recent examples are the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, and Typhoon Haiyan's impact on the Philippines in November 2013. These were among the most devastating disasters in recent history and many thousands of people were killed. Both nations are still in the process of recovering from the damage in 2014.

Satellites in Earth's orbit are increasingly being used to monitor disasters, and the imagery and data they provide are utilised to measure the impact of a disaster in order to assist relief efforts and damage assessments. These views are invaluable to disaster recovery, as they offer overviews and information that people on the ground cannot obtain.

One example of this application for imagery is the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters. Created in 1999, the Charter is today composed of 15 space agencies, with several affiliated organisations and companies. The Charter's aim is to provide satellite imagery, free of charge, to disaster response organisations in the event of a large-scale natural or man-made disaster. Each of the Charter members provides requested imagery to the response organisations and maps are also produced from the data for reference. Since its creation the Charter has contributed to over 400 disasters in countries all over the world.

Featured here are satellite images that show selected disasters around the world. Also see our related Hurricane pages, for 2012, 2013 and 2014, which feature storms.

Click on the thumbnail images to view larger versions.

 

06 May 2015 - Earthquake in Nepal

This Pleiades image shows the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu, two days after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck central Nepal. The earthquake occurred on 25 April 2015, and so far over 7500 casualties have been confirmed in Nepal.

Kathmandu suffered damage to many buildings in the earthquake and a larger number of people in the capital have taken to living in tents in open spaces of the city to avoid the potential risk of currently unstable buildings.

Kathmandu

Credit: CNES 2015 - Distribution: Airbus Defence and Space, all rights reserved

 

27 April 2015 - Calbuco Volcano in Chile

Calbuco Volcano in Chile erupted on 22 April 2015, pouring ash into the air in a kilometres long trail that drifted out over Chile and Argentina in the following days. The eruption prompted an emergency evacuation in the area surrounding the volcano, for fear that the activity would grow worse and pose a threat to life nearby. Thousands of people were evacuated, and no casualties occurred.

The ash has been the greatest disruption from the eruption, which has coated entire towns close to the volcano. The ash plume can be seen dominating the right side of this image from NASA's Terra satellite, which was acquired on 23 April. Calbuco Volcano itself is not easily visible at this scale, but the volcano is situated in the lower-left side of the image.

NASA's Aqua and Suomi NPP satellites also acquired their own views of the eruption.

Calbuco Volcano

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

 

23 March 2015 - Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

11 people died and almost 200,000 have been affected in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam, which struck the nation on 13 and 14 March 2015. The Category Five storm caused the worst damage that Vanuatu has ever experienced, destroying entire villages and stripping islands in the archipelago of all vegetation.

The Pleiades satellite acquired this view of Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu, on 16 March. The image shows the aftermath of the storm on Port Vila, which is reported to have lost 90% of its buildings.

Satellite imagery is proving very useful in the damage assessments of Vanuatu, as some of the islands in the archipelago have been difficult to reach for emergency workers, leaving questions about the conditions in these locations.

Also see a comparison of locations in Vanuatu before and after Cyclone Pam.

Port Vila

Credit: CNES 2015 - Distribution: Airbus Defence and Space, all rights reserved

 

13 January 2015 - Flooding in Sri Lanka

39 people died in Sri lanka in December 2014 when heavy rain caused flooding that left over a million people affected.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 29 December to provide satellite imagery for flood response efforts.

This map was produced using Sentinel-1 data, and shows water detected by the satellite's radar to analyse the areas of flooding in the Ampara and Batticaloa Districts.

Flooding in Sri lanka

Credit: Copernicus / European Space Agency (ESA) 2014 - Map produced by UNITAR/UNOSAT

 

10 December 2014 - Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines

21 people were killed when Typhoon Hagupit struck the Philippines from 06-08 December 2014. Hagupit was a Category Three storm at the time it made landfall, and weakened further to a Tropical Storm in the following days.

The storm raised concerns in the Philippines, due to the devastating impact Super Typhoon Haiyan had on the nation a year ago, but Hagupit was ultimately far less severe than Haiyan had been.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 04 December to provide satellite imagery for disaster response in the aftermath of the typhoon.

This map is one of several produced by UNITAR/UNOSAT for the Charter, from Pleiades and WorldView-2 images provided by the Charter member agencies. The map analyses potential damage in Tacloban City.

Tacloban City

Credit: Pleiades © CNES 2014 - Distribution: Airbus Defence and Space, all rights reserved / WorldView-2 © DigitalGlobe Inc.
Map produced by UNITAR/UNOSAT

 

28 October 2014 - Hurricane Gonzalo in Bermuda

Thousands of people were left without power when Hurricane Gonzalo passed over Bermuda on 17 October 2014. The Category Two storm left property damage in its wake across Bermuda but no deaths.

There had been concerns that Gonzalo would hit Bermuda at Category Four strength, causing major damage, but it weakened before it reached Bermuda.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 15 October to provide satellite imagery for disaster response in the aftermath of Hurricane Gonzalo.

This map is one of a series produced by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service for the Charter, and the maps analyse satellite imagery of Bermuda after Gonzalo to assess the damage. This particular map was created with a Pleiades image acquired on 18 October and shows Hamilton City, the capital of Bermuda.

Hamilton City

Credit: Pleiades © CNES 2014 - Distribution: Airbus Defence and Space, all rights reserved
Map produced by the European Commission

 

10 October 2014 - Eruption of Mount Ontake in Japan

Mount Ontake in Japan erupted on 27 September 2014, spewing ash, smoke and toxic gas and leaving 54 people dead. Many tourists and mountain climbers were on the mountain at the time of the eruption, and there was no warning of the eruption. Hundreds of police and relief workers have been searching the mountain for survivors and recovering the bodies of the dead.

This Pleiades image, acquired on 30 September, shows the continuing eruption.

Mount Ontake

Credit: CNES 2014 - Distribution: Airbus Defence and Space / Spot Image S.A. France, all rights reserved

 

12 September 2014 - Floods in Bangladesh

Flooding affected almost three million people in Bangladesh following torrential rain in August 2014. 17 district's in the country were affected by the floods, which were caused by overflowing rivers.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 22 August to provide satellite imagery for flood monitoring.

This map was created by using TerraSAR-X radar data, acquired before and after the floods, and highlights areas of flooding in part of the country.

Flood in Bangladesh

Credit: German Aerospace Center (DLR), 2014 Airbus Defence and Space / Infoterra GmbH - Map produced by Geoinformatics Center, Asian Institute of Technology

 

03 September 2014 - Floods in India

India suffered floods in August 2014 that left over sixty people dead and affected four states in the northern area of the country. Thousands of people were left homeless when their homes were destroyed or inundated.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 18 August to provide satellite imagery for flood monitoring.

This map, produced using a false-colour UK-DMC2 image of Uttar Pradesh State, highlights the extent of the flooding on 20 August.

Floods in Uttar Pradesh

Credit: DMCii 2014, all rights reserved - Map produced by NRSC / ISRO

 

22 August 2014 - Flood in Sudan

Floods have been affecting Sudan since July 2014, leaving 37 dead and thousands homeless. It has been estimated that over 150,000 people in the nation have been affected in twelve states.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 05 August to provide imagery of the flooding from space. This map was produced using data from the RADARSAT-2 and Landsat-7 satellites, and analyses the situation in Khartoum State on 08 August 2014.

Credit: RADARSAT-2 Data and Products © MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (2014) - All Rights Reserved. RADARSAT is an official trademark of the Canadian Space Agency.
Landsat-7 © NASA/USGS - Map produced by UNITAR/UNOSAT

 

11 August 2014 - Fire in the Dominican Republic

A wildfire in the Dominican Republic burnt thousands of hectares of forest in the La Valle Nuevo National Park in July and August 2014. The fire began on 20 July and quickly spread through the park until it was contained on 05 August.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 30 July to aid in monitoring the fire from space. This map was produced for the Charter, and uses RapidEye imagery acquired on 02 August to show the extent of the fire.

Credit: BlackBridge AG, all rights reserved 2014 - Map produced by DLR/ZKI

 

28 July 2014 - Floods in Vietnam

Super Typhoon Rammasun caused flooding in northern Vietnam on 19 July 2014. The storm left 27 people dead and hundreds of homes destroyed by floods and landslides.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated on 18 July to assist with the flood monitoring. This map was produced for the Charter, and shows flooding in Viet Tri, Phu Tho Province. The map was created using imagery from the TerrraSAR-X and Landsat-8 images, and the red areas highlighted on the map are probable areas of flooding as seen by TerraSAR-X on 19 July.

Credit: TerraSAR-X © German Aerospace Center (DLR), 2014 Airbus Defence and Space / Infoterra GmbH - Landsat-8 data and products © USGS (2014) - All rights reserved - Map produced by UNITAR/UNOSAT

 

17 July 2014 - Floods in Brazil

Brazil was affected by flooding again towards the end of June 2014. The southern part of the country was once again subject to torrential rain which caused floods in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. It was estimated that 20,000 people were evacuated this time.

The International Charter: Space and Major Disasters was activated again in response to the flooding, and this was one of the maps produced for the Charter. It shows the city of Itaqui, as seen by the radar aboard Sentinel-1, on 08 July 2014. The radar image makes it easy to see areas of flooding, as bodies of water are visible as black patches in the image.

Credit: Copernicus 2014 - Map produced by CENAD (Brazilian National Risk and Disaster Management Center)

 

03 July 2014 - Floods in Brazil

Another country affected by the flooding in South America during June 2014 was Brazil. The southern part of the nation, along the border with Argentina experienced the same torrential rain, and resulted in 40,000 people being evacuated.

This map was also produced for the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters, and shows two dams on the Iguaçu River in the state of Paraná which were affected by the rain. The map was created with imagery from two different satellites, UK-DMC2 and Landsat-8, to examine the situation before and after the disaster.

Credit: UK-DMC2 © 2014 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), DMC International Imaging (DMCii), Landsat 8 data and products © USGS (2014) - All rights reserved - Map produced by INPE

 

25 June 2014 - Floods in Argentina

Torrential rain caused flooding in parts of South America in June 2014. The northern part of Argentina suffered from the flooding, where the Paraná River overflowed at points. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate.

This map, produced for the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters, is one of a series of maps produced to monitor the flooding in Argentina. The TerraSAR-X radar image was acquired on 19 June 2014 and shows Goya city and part of the Paraná River.

Credit: German Aerospace Center (DLR), 2014 Airbus Defence and Space / Infoterra GmbH - Map produced by CAEARTE/CONAE ML

 

17 June 2014 - Floods in Serbia

The Balkans experienced the worst flooding in over a century in May 2014. Among the countries affected was Serbia.

This map, produced for the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters, shows the flood situation in Obrenovac, one of the worst affected cities in Serbia. The entire city was ordered to evacuate on 19 May, due to the threat posed by flooding from the Sa va River.

Credit: TerraSAR-X © German Aerospace Center (DLR), 2014 Airbus Defence and Space / Infoterra GmbH, Resurs-P © ROSCOSMOS, Pleiades © CNES 2014 - Distribution: Airbus Defence and Space, all rights reserved - Map produced by Research Center for Earth Operative Monitoring (NTs OMZ)

 

06 June 2014 - Pavlof Volcano

This MetOp-A image, acquired at 20:34 UTC on 02 June 2014, shows an ash plume from the Pavlof Volcano. This volcano, located on the Alaskan Peninsula in the United States of America, began erupting in May 2014. When the eruptions intensified on 02 June there were concerns that it was the precursor to a more powerful hazardous eruption.

This has not occurred as of 06 June, but seismologists forecast that the volcano could still be erupting for months.

Credit: EUMETSAT 2014

 

20 May 2014 - Flooding in Bosnia and Serbia

Torrential rain in the middle of May 2014 caused the worst flooding that Bosnia and Serbia had seen in 120 years, according to reports. Tens of thousands of people evacuated and over thirty people were killed by floods and landslides.

This Meteosat-10 infrared image shows the weather that caused the flooding. The image was produced from data acquired by the satellite between 14 and 17 May.

Credit: EUMETSAT 2014

 

14 May 2014 - Flooding on the Zambezi River, Namibia

Every spring, Africa's Zambezi River swells with seasonal rain, causing the river to overflow into its broad floodplains. This year was no exception. When the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite passed Namibia's Caprivi Strip on 13 May 2014, it captured imagery showing widespread flooding.

In this false-colour image, which was made with both infrared and visible light, floodwater appears black. Vegetation is bright green, and bare ground is brown.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

 

09 May 2014 - Landslide in Ab Barek, Afghanistan

Heavy rains caused flooding in northern Afghanistan in late April 2014, and a landslide followed on 02 May at the village of Ab Barek. It was estimated that over a thousand people were killed in Ab Barek by the landslide, and approximately 71,000 people have been affected by the flooding in Afghanistan.

This map was produced by UNOSAT, the rapid mapping service of UNITAR, on behalf of the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters. The Charter was activated on 29 April in response to the disaster in Afghanistan, and maps from different satellite data have been produced to analyse the damage from the flooding and landslide.

This particular map uses WorldView-1 (03 May 2014) and WorldView-2 imagery (07 June 2013 and 05 May 2014) to assess the situation in Ab Barek.

Credit: DigitalGlobe - Map produced by UNITAR/UNOSAT

 

08 May 2014 - Ubinas Volcano, Peru

Ubinas Volcano erupted on 28 April 2014, pouring ash into the air, as can be seen in this image from NASA's Terra satellite. This view is a false-colour acquisition, and the red areas of the image indicate vegetation.

Thousands of people have been evacuated in Peru due to the hazard posed by the volcanic ash, which can cause respiratory problems for anyone in the area.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

 

16 September 2013 - Floods in Estes Park, United States of America

The state of Colorado suffered the worst flooding in almost 50 years in early September 2013, leaving eight people dead and over 2000 homes destroyed. Thousands of people were evacuated from the flood-hit areas, and the small town of Estes Park was inundated and cut-off by the flood waters. The town was shut down during the flooding, but re-opened in late September when the situation improved.

This image from the Pleiades satellite shows the flood situation in Estes Park on 16 September. A clear sign of flooding can be seen in the centre of the image, the large brown area is Lake Estes, swollen by floodwaters.

Credit: CNES 2013 - Distribution: Astrium Services / Spot Image S.A. France, all rights reserved

 

06 September 2013 - Indus River flooding, Pakistan

Pakistan experienced flooding in the summer of 2013 when the nation was struck by monsoon rains in excess of the season's norm. It was estimated that over a million people were affected by the flooding, 200 people were killed and thousands of homes destroyed.

This image from NASA's Terra satellite highlights flooding along the Indus River on 04 September 2013. It is a false colour image, in which areas of flooding are indicated in blue and black.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

 

26 August 2013 - Amur River flooding, Russia

20,000 people were evacuated in eastern Russia in the summer of 2013 when the River Amur overflowed following heavy rain. The flood affected the Amur Region, the Jewish Autonomous Area and the Khabarovsk Territory in what was reported to be the worst flooding the area had experienced in a century.

This image was acquired by the SPOT-5 satellite on 26 August 2013 and shows part of the Amur River in the Leninsky District. The Leninskoye village, which can be seen in the centre of this image, was turned into an island by the floodwaters.

Credit: CNES 2013, Astrium Services, ScanEx RDC