Assessment and prediction of natural hazards from satellite imagery

  • Thomas Gillespie
  • Jasmine Chu UCLA
  • Elizabeth Frankenberg
  • Duncan Thomas


Since 2000, there have been a number of spaceborne satellites that have changed the way we assess and predict natural hazards. These satellites are able to quantify physical geographic phenomena associated with the movements of the earth’s surface (earthquakes, mass movements), water (fl oods, tsunamis, storms), and fi re (wildfi res). Most of these satellites contain active or passive sensors that can be utilized by the scientifi c community for the remote sensing of natural hazards over a number of spatial and temporal scales. The most useful satellite imagery for the assessment of earthquake damage comes from high-resolution (0.6 m to 1 m pixel size) passive sensors and moderate resolution active sensors that can quantify the vertical and horizontal movement of the earth’s surface. High-resolution passive sensors have been used successfully to assess flood damage while predictive maps of fl ood vulnerability areas are possible based on physical variables collected from passive and active sensors. Recent moderate resolution sensors are able to provide near real-time data on fi res and provide quantitative data used in fi re behavior models. Limitations currently exist due to atmospheric interference, pixel resolution, and revisit times. However, a number of new microsatellites and constellations of satellites will be launched in the next fi ve years that contain increased resolution (0.5 m to 1 m pixel resolution for active sensors) and revisit times (daily < 2.5 m resolution images from passive sensors) that will signifi cantly improve our ability to assess and predict natural hazards from space.


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