With natural disasters becoming more common and intense, it’s important to use the tools available to lend a helping hand. Satellite technology has many beneficial uses in relation to minimizing the impact felt from these disruptive events.
The consequences of climate change
The state of the Earth’s climate affects weather patterns. Since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth has gotten 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. While this may seem like a relatively small increase, it ends up making a significant difference for localized weather events. Natural disasters are occurring frequently, and they are causing more damage than ever before. Climate change has a profound effect on the following natural disasters:
- Warm oceans fuel the strength of a hurricane, so an overall increase in temperature could make hurricanes more intense. Warmer water will also evaporate more quickly, leading to greater precipitation during the storm. This adds up to more flooding and damage.
- In areas already prone to drought, the higher temperatures mean less precipitation than normal. This results in longer recovery times, and it is predicted that the time between droughts will become less than the time necessary for a full recovery.
- Everyone remembers the terrible California wildfires of 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, they will probably become more common and last longer as climate change advances. Higher temperatures and an increasingly earlier spring prolong the wildfire season.
- Those in flood zones are in danger. The heaviest 1% of rainfall produces up to 55% more precipitation than it did 50 years ago. Floods not only displace those in the low-lying areas but put others in jeopardy of facing catastrophic mudslides.
It is important to not only continue the fight against climate change but also to better prepare many areas around the country for the possibility of natural disasters. Likewise, better systems need to be in place for those suffering the consequences of these storms once they hit.
Satellite technology has the power to provide crucial data when disaster strikes. Satellites sit safely above the Earth’s atmosphere and can produce up-to-date macro information on vast geographical locations. This data combined with cutting-edge analysis techniques such as artificial intelligence and machine learning yield important insights on a natural disaster. For example, Descartes Labs, a tech company in New Mexico, used machine learning to analyze information gained from satellites during Hurricane Harvey to accurately detect flood zones. This novel application used synthetic aperture radar satellite data to peer through cloud cover and achieve near real-time flooding identification. Officials could then prioritized populated regions with heavy floods during relief procedures.
Eventually, it is hoped similar techniques can be used to predict other uncertain variables of hurricanes, such as strength when close to landfall. It is difficult to know whether a hurricane will gain or lose strength as it approaches land. A more accurate prediction could save lives and property.
Satellite data isn’t only helpful for hurricanes, however. It can track wildfires and measure their temperatures. This information can be used to predict paths and potentially affected areas. Then, people can evacuate in a safe, timely fashion when necessary. In the future sensor equipment on satellites could become so precise that smaller fires are caught instantly and firefighters can contain them before becoming a threat.
Additionally, satellites allow first responders to communicate in times where terrestrial forms of communication are down. They also provide response teams with the info they need to plan out which areas are in the most need. This all adds up to satellite technology being a vital component to the present and future of disaster relief efforts.
The NASA Earth Science Disasters Program
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) started the Earth Science Disasters Programin 2006 to use its considerable space-based assets to save lives and property during times of crisis. Information from its satellites has analyzed:
- Air quality. Satellites track the concentration of pollutants and noxious gases in the air. This data can provide public health warnings in areas of high contamination.
- Volcanic ash. The satellites can measure and evaluate ash plumes. In the future, information gathered here could be used to predict major eruptions.
- Famine-stricken areas. Lack of water affects global food security. Insights on precipitation levels and soil readings are used to assess the expectations of crop yields for a given region.
- Dust storms. The powerful LANCE system uses satellite data to predict and monitor dust storms. Warnings can then be issued to the affected areas, and the flight paths of aircraft can be altered to avoid any problems.
- Ice conditions. Global shipping lanes that run through the Earth’s polar regions are susceptible to changing ice conditions. Near real-time satellites determine current conditions, and the system can relay results to vessels via satellite communications.
- The LANCE system is used to survey vegetation levels across the globe. The system can spot abnormalities and relay the info to groups such as the Food and Agriculture Organization for more in-depth study.
- Response time is vital to saving lives after a devastating earthquake. The program’s satellites scan impacted cities to estimate where the most damaged structures are. First responders can then dispatch aid to these high priority sectors immediately.
- Industrial accidents. The NASA program can track catastrophic industrial events such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico accurately to ensure anybody in harm’s way knows quickly.
As you can see, it’s possible to monitor and study a wide spectrum of disasters through satellites. Governments and private companies throughout the world are using the technology to provide targeted, efficient relief to disaster zones. As the consequences of climate change increase, satellites in combination with data-crunching analysis software will become more instrumental in predicting natural events and the subsequent relief efforts.
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Cara is the marketing coordinator at X2nSat. She’s a social media maverick, a content genius, and an author in her spare time. Writing and marketing are her true passions.