Satellite Images Help Focus Haiti Earthquake Relief

Friday, January 15, 2010

NASA and space agencies around the world are pointing their satellites toward Haiti to aid relief efforts and map damage caused by the devastating earthquake earlier this week.

The 7.0 magnitude quake struck the Caribbean island Tuesday, causing extensive destruction and fatalities estimated in the tens of thousands.

NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), a joint project with Japan, and its Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite are taking images of Haiti's hardest-hit areas in multiple wavelengths of light.

Ground teams are comparing these pictures to pre-quake photos to assess the damage, and to help rescue and relief workers know where to focus their efforts, agency officials said.

A network of satellites working for the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters has also joined the endeavor. The European Space Agency, the French Space Agency (CNES), Japan, China, Canada and the U.S. have all pitched in under the charter.

Additionally, Germany, Italy and South Korea have also donated satellite time.

The resulting images show widespread ruin around Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital and largest city. The earthquake struck just 10 miles (15 km) southwest of the city.

European researchers combined data from several international satellites top build a so-called "damage elevation map" that illustrates which regions of Haiti have seen the most damage. In the image, the most obvious damage in Port-au-Prince can be seen in red.

"As soon as new data arrives, updated maps will be produced and made available to the international community," ESA officials said.

This article is written by Clara Moskowitz for

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