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Scientists Use Satellite Data to Assist Puerto Rico First Responders

30 Sep 2017, 10:54 am

NASA scientists are using high-tech satellite data to assist first responders in Puerto Rico as the major recovery from Hurricane Maria continues on the commonwealth.

Specifically, NASA scientists are using satellite data obtained from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) Satellite to measure the nighttime light across the island to find out where the power was lost during the storm and how long its been out. From there, that information is passed along to first responders, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. National Guard, so that they can better deploy rescue and repair crews and to distribute life saving supplies.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite, with its “day-night band,” was used to produce the nighttime data. The VIIRS can detect light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared, including reflected moonlight, light from fires and oil wells, lightning, and emissions from cities or other human activity.

To fine-tune the data from the Suomi NPP satellite and to make it even more useful for responders, additional data was used from satellites such as the Landsat, Sentinel-2, and TerraSAR-X. As well, a team of scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Marshall Space Flight Center processed and corrected the raw data to filter out stray light from the Moon, fires, airglow, and any other sources that are not electric lights. Their processing techniques also removed as much other atmospheric interference, including dust, haze and thin clouds.

The first set of images below show the basline light emitted from Puerto Rico before and then close to a week after Hurricane Maria (September 27, 28). Its a not a true light image, but still a measure of electric light being emitted. There is a clear difference in the images. Places like San Juan, Caguas and Ponce have much less light being emitted after the storm.

Source: NASA

The second set of images show a close up view for San Jaun and Caguas, from the baseline to close to a week after Hurricane Maria. Its clear that large sections of these cities are still without power.

Source: NASA

You can read more about the how NASA satellites are being used to help first responders here.

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