INTERGEO 2011: Natural Disaster in Japan Emphasises Need for International Networking Among Geo Experts

In the future, new satellites will support international disaster relief with faster and optimised image data 

Karlsruhe, 29 March 2011. When the Earth shook with a magnitude of 9.0 off the coast of Japan on Friday, 11 March, Olaf Kranz and his team at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen had to react quickly. In close cooperation with the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, we analysed the satellite data and drew up maps of the affected areas. The aim was to identify the damage and find ways of providing the best possible support for the local aid effort, says Kranz, Project Manager of the DLR’s Centre for Satellite Based Crisis Information (ZKI). Providing maps quickly is a must for relief operations in the wake of natural disasters. Recent events in Japan show there is no alternative to intensive international cooperation, says Prof. Karl-Friedrich Thöne, President of the German Association of Surveying – Society for Geodesy, Geoinformation and Land Management (DVW e. V.), issuing an invitation to the world’s biggest conference trade fair for geodesy, geoinformation and land management from 27 to 29 September 2011 in Nuremberg. Taking as its theme ‘Knowledge and action for planet Earth’, INTERGEO has for years been making an important contribution to cross-industry dialogue and worldwide networking. We will, of course, continue to drive forward these aims at Nuremberg.

INTERGEO exhibitor Astrium GEO-Information Services has announced the launch of four new satellites that will optimise the parameters for international disaster relief by enabling the flexible recording of larger areas, the accurate depiction of smaller areas with image products accurate down to 50 centimetres and faster availability of image data.

Top priority: closer networking of ground stations
The maps generated by the DLR before and after the earthquake show the immense destructive force of nature. Up-to-date geodata is essential if rescue services are to reach the disaster-struck regions and provide help as fast as possible. After all, the regions affected need to be accessible for sufficient material and supplies to be provided in good time.

As part of the network of the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’, DLR experts are responsible for supplying and evaluating the requisite data when natural disasters strike. The maps were sent to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), which is also a member of the Charter. As Kranz explains, at best the data can be provided within a few hours; at worst, it can take a few days. The proximity of a ground station to the relevant satellite is key. In this case, processing and visualisation will be complete in a few hours. The DLR and many other international research institutions, he said, are striving to expand the network of ground stations and ensure closer cooperation. Kranz is certain: The excellent cooperation between the International Charter and the Japanese emphasises the importance of networking between research institutions worldwide.

Pléiades, SPOT-6 and -7: new satellite generation will optimise relief efforts
The geodata analysed by Kranz’s research team was recorded by the Earth observation satellites SPOT-5 and Terra-SAR-X. Astrium GEO-Information Services (formerly Spot Image and Infoterra) is responsible for the commercial use of the data from both satellites. The EADS subsidiary is set to expand its portfolio shortly to include four new satellites. The Pléiades constellation and the next generation of SPOT satellites will be launched some time between the end of this year and 2014, explains Sales Director Marco Weber. Working together in space, the satellites can cover an area of interest every 12 hours, capturing more than 7 million square kilometres a day, says Weber, explaining just one of the pioneering aspects that will enable rescue services to respond faster and even more effectively in future. Like many other renowned companies, Astrium uses INTERGEO – the world’s leading fair for geodesy, geoinformation and land management – as an annual platform for presenting new developments and services and for discussing future solutions at the conference.