Earth Observation Resources on the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

By Lisa Rudy, posted on March 23rd, 2011 in Disasters, Earth Observation

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On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, along with massive tidal waves, hit Japan with incredible force, causing catastrophic devastation. During and after the events, Earth observation technology including buoys, satellites and other imaging devices have allowed scientists and the media to visualize and track the impact of the event, mitigating loss of life and property and supporting effective rescue efforts. Citizen scientists, using cameras, cell phones, video cameras and other tools also have provided valuable visual insights.
Earthzine is compiling relevant Earth imaging resources; you can check back regularly to see new images, information and links. Updates are also posted on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

March 23, 2011 Update

A new GEO Tohoku-oki Event Supersite is pooling the best and most up-to-date images, maps, model results and links on the multiple disasters. Among its collected resources are products that address interplate coupling, historic seismicity, and damage; they also include 3D animations of the aftershocks recorded to date. Japan has specifically requested available information on the tsunami area, landslide area, deformation pattern (InSAR), future possible dangerous areas, and floating objects in the ocean.

At this point, the site contains materials produced by space agencies in Japan, Italy, Germany and the US; additional partner materials are being made available through the International Charter.

Here are a few highlights from the site (links go to the original international sites, and not to the GEO site):

Envisat interferograms from Track 347.Davide Oscar Nitti of Geophysical Applications Processing in Bari, Italy prepared this and other interferograms from Envisat track 347.








Map of mainshock faultsShinji Toda (DPRI, Kyoto Univ.), Ross Stein (USGS) and Volkan Sevilgen (USGS) have computed stress changes on faults throughout Japan due to the Tohoku mainshock. Faults brought closer to failure are shaded red on the plot below.












USGS impact mapThis impact map from USGS is just one of many products made available through USGS and listed on the GEO Supersite.



















March 18, 2011 Update

Commercial and government managed satellites are becoming key tools for analyzing earthquake and tsunami damage and allocating resources for recovery. By comparing processed before-and-after images of the Japanese landscape and coastline, Japanese officials are able to evaluate the impact of flooding at specific locations. At the same time, organizations which aggregate imagery are working in collaboration with national and international relief organizations to provide timely analysis of situations including the deteriorating status of the nuclear reactors in Japan. The earthquake has been officially upgraded to a magnitude of 9.0.

imagery of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite corporation based in Colorado, is now providing the international community with high-resolution imagery of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This image , taken March 16, shows white steam rising from reactor three. Additional images, published on the National Geographic site, offer a birds-eye view of the ongoing situation.

DigitalGlobe also has created a wealth of visual analysis of the events in Japan, available to the public free of charge. These downloadable information sheets and images allow interested individuals and researchers to view, compare, and understand the impact of the earthquake and tsunami, and to visualize the ongoing situation at the nuclear power plants.


Enhanced images from Landsat's Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) instrument before-and-after images of the Japanese coast near Sendai, Japan.  Enhanced images from Landsat‘s Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) instrument provide useful before-and-after imaging of the Japanese coast near Sendai, Japan. The ETM+ is a fixed “whisk-broom,” eight-band, multispectral scanning radiometer capable of providing high-resolution imaging information of the Earth’s surface. The upper image is from March 12, 2011. The lower image is from Feb. 24, 2011.







Enhanced image from Landsat's Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) instrument before-and-after imaging of the Japanese coast near Sendai, Japan.












Lt. Col.  David Tyndal examines Eagle Vision images.The Air Force’s Eagle Vision program, based at Hansom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, uses five deployable satellite downlink stations to collect and process disaster-related imagery from commercial satellites. After collecting information from satellite operators in the U.S., France, Germany, Italy and Canada, Eagle Eye then processes the images and forwards them to U.S. Pacific Command, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and U.S. Geological Survey. Imagery provided through Eagle Vision supports the process of damage assessment in Japan and in tsunami-damaged areas of Hawaii and California. In this photo, Lt. Col. David Tyndal examines Eagle Vision images.




March 15, 2011 Update

Public and private organizations around the world are actively creating visualization tools to inform the public and support disaster relief in Japan. In addition, tools are under development to allow scientists to monitor seismic aftershocks from the earthquake, and to predict possible events before they happen. Corporations such as Google and GeoEye are playing an increasingly important role in supporting public understanding as Japan struggles with damaged nuclear facilities and copes with the aftermath of the quake.

Charter images from more than a dozen satellites  informing response to the Japanese crisis.Members of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters operate satellites launched by organizations around the world; their combined efforts support disaster relief in the wake of events such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Charter images from more than a dozen satellites are informing response to the Japanese crisis. This TerraSAR-X before-and-after imagery of the coastline of Miyagi Prefecture defines the areas that were hardest hit.









Image of a smoke plume over Japan.NASA’s multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard the Terra spacecraft was able to capture a large smoke plume that appears to be associated either with the Shiogama incident or the Sendai port fires. The presence of clouds makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact origin.










Before-and-after images of the areas affected by the tsunami.  GeoEye’s IKONOS satellite, a commercial visualization tool, worked with Google to create a gallery of before-and-after images of the areas affected by the tsunami. The images, published by The New York Times and Washington Post, bring home the catastrophic impact of the event. (credits: Google, Inc. and Geoeye, Inc.)






















a near-real-time map of the aftershocks occurring globally following the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked JapanResearchers at Texas Tech University’s Center for Geospatial Technologies have created a near-real-time map of the aftershocks occurring globally following the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan Friday. Interactive, printable images may be found on their Mapserver website.








March 13, 2011 Update

Within just one day, UN-SPIDER had developed a database of applicable information and visualizations; the Japanese Meteorological Society had created and distributed 2 and 3-D maps of the event; the U.S. Geological Survey had designed a digital poster to explain and describe the event and its impact; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had distributed visualizations of the wave and its path; and international agencies had provided video, maps, images and other tools for managing the crisis.

ZKI crisis mapUN-SPIDER SpaceAid (United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response) quickly created visualization and response tools. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is actively involved in emergency mapping efforts in the frame of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters. The overview below was provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information (ZKI).







two and three dimensional visualizations of the event,The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) created both two- and three-dimensional visualizations of the event, and continues to provide updated meteorological information through its Tsunami Information Center.









2d image from JMA of quakes












graphics display forecast results, showing qualitative and quantitative information about the tsunami, including tsunami wave interaction with ocean floor bathymetric features, and neighboring coastlines. Tsunami model amplitude information is shown color-coded according the scale bar.The Honshu tsunami was generated by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake (38.322°N, 142.369°E ), at 05:46 UTC, 130 km (80 miles) east of Sendai, Honshu, Japan (according to the USGS). In about 25 minutes, the tsunami was first recorded at DART® buoy 21418. Left, the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research graphics displays forecast results, showing qualitative and quantitative information about the tsunami, including tsunami wave interaction with ocean floor bathymetric features, and neighboring coastlines. Tsunami model amplitude information is shown color-coded according to the scale bar.








This Poster of the Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011 - Magnitude 8.9, created by the USGS, pulls together imagery and information related not only to the March 11 event but also to foreshocks that were felt during preceding days.This Poster of the Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011 – Magnitude 8.9, created by USGS, pulls together imagery and information related not only to the March 11 event but also to foreshocks that were felt during preceding days. More recent maps provide insight into the probable impact of aftershocks.

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