Typhoon Haiyan: NASA Photo Pinpoints Worst Hit Areas to Aid with Relief

By Michele Berger
Published: November 15, 2013

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in conjunction with the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Wednesday released satellite imagery to help aid with the relief effort around Typhoon Haiyan.

The map, which covers a 27-by-33-mile region, is overlaid on Google Earth and shows “surface changes caused by natural or human-produced damage,” according to NASA, indicated by bright red coloration where the typhoon struck the hardest.

“When the radar images areas with little to no destruction, its image pixels are transparent,” NASA notes. “Increased opacity of the radar image pixels reflects damage, with areas in red reflecting the heaviest damage to cities and towns in the storm’s path.”

The idea, JPL’s Frank Webb told, is to offer guidance and situational awareness to the aid workers. “It helps them get a picture of where damage has likely been sustained,” he said. “It provides people a bit of guide [as to] where they might start to go look, for recovery efforts or response.”

NASA and ASI opted to make the data publicly available through the USGS. They also sent it to the Philippines Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

The technique used to create this map — radar data from ASI and a prototype algorithm — began in 2011, after a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. It was also used after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, to assess damage and provide detailed GPS coordinates.

This time around, the team applied the lessons learned from previous use, particularly Sandy, said Sang-Ho Yun, a radar engineer and geophysicist at JPL. Following that storm, it took a total of 15 days — including data retrieval, analysis and production — to disseminate key data. For Typhoon Haiyan, that time was reduced by more than half.

Webb said they plan to follow-up with responders to find out how they actually used the map. “We always would like to improve the type of information we can provide in response to these types of events,” said Webb, JPL’s deputy program manager for Earth Science Formulation. “Part of that improvement is understanding how the data were used and how valuable, as well as accurate, the data are.”

MORE: Images from Typhoon Haiyan

An aerial view shows the coast affected by Typhoon Haiyan, Nov. 14, 2013, in Hernani, eastern Samar, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

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