NASA Map Of Typhoon Haiyan Helps Disaster Response
November 14, 2013

NASA Map Of Typhoon Haiyan Helps Disaster Response

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, a joint team from NASA and the Italian Space Agency quickly generated a map using satellite imagery that could be used to survey the devastation and assist recovery operations.

The 27-by-33-mile map focuses on a region near Tacloban City, where one of the most powerful recorded storms on Earth made landfall on Nov. 8, 2013.

Using radar data from the Italian Space Agency's COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation, NASA’s Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team generated the map that included information taken before and after the storm hit. The ARIA team’s method uses an algorithm to rapidly scan for surface changes caused by natural or human-produced damage.

In the map released by NASA, damage sensed by radar was overlaid on a Google Earth image. Areas of the image colored in red represented the heaviest storm damage to man-made structures. The map linked the estimated intensity of damage to the opacity of the red for a specific region, meaning areas that have little to no destruction are ‘covered’ by transparent pixels. Each pixel on the map represents about 33 yards across.

The ARIA team began developing their novel technique using case studies taken from the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011. In March 2011, the ARIA team used the method to assess the aftermath of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Tohoku, Japan. The team assessed tsunami damage and ground deformation caused by the event. After Hurricane Sandy, the team created damage maps that were delivered days after landfall and later validated with crowdsourcing data.

NASA said the ARIA team continues to refine its methods, with the Haiyan satellite data available three days after landfall and processed less than 11 hours later.

According to the space agency, the typhoon had sustained winds of around 195 mph. As of Thursday morning, over 2,300 people are confirmed dead as a result of the storm. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf coast in 2005, was responsible for over 1,800 fatalities.

NASA said most of the deadly flooding from Super Typhoon Haiyan was caused by the storm surge, estimated to be around 17 feet in Tacloban. The layout of the Pacific island nation caused the storm surge from Haiyan to be funneled through Leyte Gulf and directly into Tacloban.

The massive typhoon also dumped torrential rainfall onto the central Philippines – along with two other large storms that all passed through the same region within a ten-day span. The total rainfall from these tropical storms for most of the island of Leyte, where Tacloban sits, was greater than 19 inches, with a peak amount of over about 27 inches in the southeast corner of the island.

As part of the relief effort, the Red Cross said it is soliciting donations through Facebook. The social network is donating space atop users’ news feed for no charge.

“We feel it’s such a natural fit between the Red Cross and Facebook because both organizations are ones that connect people with loved ones and neighbors around the world,” Red Cross spokeswoman Laura Howe told The Washington Post. “Those who want to help can be connected with those who need help in an easy way.”