First satellite maps of Haiti earthquake
20 January 2010
Scientists are not yet able to predict catastrophic earthquakes. However, satellite technology can be a great help to rescue workers after a major quake, such as the one which hit the island of Haiti on 12 January. The magnitude 7 shock struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, causing thousands of casualties and widespread damage to buildings.
Existing maps suddenly become out of date after such a devastating event, making life even more difficult for workers on the ground. However, up-to-date views of the areas that have been affected can be made available quickly by using satellite images.
In the case of Haiti, optical and radar images from space were soon available. Radar satellites have the advantage of being to see through cloud and to image the ground at night. Radar imagery can be used to identify hazards such as landslides that may be triggered by earthquakes. In the long term, radar data can also be used to map surface changes and help scientists understand such events.
Images from an international fleet of satellites, including ESA’s ERS-2 and Envisat, are being provided free of charge to the rescue teams in Haiti. Pictures taken immediately after the event are being used to create emergency maps of the area. These maps are used to identify areas that have been worst hit and to identify passable routes for relief and rescue workers. They also help to locate areas which are suitable for setting up aid camps, where medical support and shelter can be provided.