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Space data to help Pakistan recover from its record floods

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As Pakistan contends with the impact of the torrential rains that plunged it into crisis, experts are tapping into the potential of Earth observation data to help communities rebound from the disaster.

To support the response to the crisis, a flood monitoring method is being used that was developed as part of an ESA activity called eDrift, which lies within the agency’s FutureEO programme.

The aim of eDrift – which is led by the CIMA Research Foundation – is to develop remote sensing products that will enable organisations such as insurance companies and government agencies to assess the effects of catastrophes and finance recovery efforts.

Focusing on disaster risk transfer in South Asia and South-East Asia, the project draws on data delivered by Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 of the European Union’s Copernicus Programme.

The capabilities developed through eDrift are being implemented by CIMA and its partners as part of ESA’s Global Development Assistance Disaster Resilience project, which aims to expand the use of Earth Observation data within international financial institutions.

eDrift involves the creation of a strong collaborative network made up of Earth observation service providers, insurance companies, and financial organisations including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The project is adding to a global space-based response to the floods in Pakistan, which includes an activation of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.  

Copernicus Sentinel-2 contributes to Pakistan Charter activation

This international response also included the provision of early warning and monitoring services through the Global Flood Awareness System, which includes a new Copernicus Sentinel-1 global flood monitoring product. In addition, the on-demand mapping components of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) have supported the EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), international organisations and officials in Pakistan with real-time flood forecasting and monitoring products.

Between mid-June and September Pakistan was pummelled with torrential Monsoon rains, leaving large parts of the nation inundated with flood waters.

Reconstruction of flooding in Pakistan

The floods – which were exacerbated by seasonal glacier and snow melt – are expected to take months to recede.

The disaster resulted in a death toll of more than 1000 and left millions of people marooned, as well as causing the destruction of farmland and vital infrastructure.

As part of eDrift, Copernicus Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar data (SAR) were used to support Pakistan’s post-disaster needs assessment, which determines the impact of the floods and helps to direct recover efforts.

The geo-information products generated by eDrift over Pakistan have been made available to a number of end users, including regional development authorities and organisations that support post-disaster needs assessments.

SAR has the advantage of using wavelengths that are not impeded by cloud cover or darkness, which means it can continue to acquire data during the day and night under all weather conditions, making it a powerful tool for flood monitoring.

An advanced algorithm was used to process thousands of Sentinel images, creating maps that reveal the dynamics of the flooding and the retreat of the floodwaters.

By covering cities as well as rural areas, the maps provide a more complete picture of the flooding than was possible with previous approaches.

The maps were combined with elevation information – that is based on the Copernicus Digital Elevation Model – to fill observational gaps and provide an estimation of the water depth at different sites. This information is crucial for estimating the impact on buildings and infrastructures.

Pakistan inundated

These data were openly shared with the organisations responsible for compiling the post-disaster needs assessment.

The Asian Development Bank’s Pakistan resident mission reported that the maps provided valuable insight for damage assessments. Organisations that support post-disaster needs assessments used the data to facilitate their specific impact evaluations.

The maps were created in collaboration with Asian Development Bank and Sentinel Asia, as well as the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology and Wasdi Sarl, both key partners of the eDrift project.

About the Copernicus Sentinels

The Copernicus Sentinels are a fleet of dedicated EU-owned satellites, designed to deliver the wealth of data and imagery that are central to the European Union's Copernicus environmental programme. The European Commission leads and coordinates this programme, to improve the management of the environment, safeguarding lives every day.

ESA is in charge of the space component, responsible for developing the family of Copernicus Sentinel satellites on behalf of the European Union and ensuring the flow of data for the Copernicus services, while the operations of the Copernicus Sentinels have been entrusted to ESA and EUMETSAT.

Did you know that?

Earth observation data from the Copernicus Sentinel satellites are fed into the Copernicus Services. First launched in 2012, with the Land Monitoring and Emergency Management services, these services provide free and open support, in six different thematic areas.

The Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) provides all operators involved in the management of natural hazards, disasters, man-made emergency situations, and humanitarian crises with timely and accurate geo-spatial information derived from satellite remote sensing and completed by available in situ or open data sources. A cooperation agreement is in place between CEMS and the International Charter Space and Major Disasters to maximize synergies concerning access to satellite data and value-added services.

The Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS) provides geographical information on land cover and its changes, land use, vegetation state, water cycle and Earth's surface energy variables to a broad range of users in Europe and across the World, in the field of environmental terrestrial applications.

It supports applications in a variety of domains such as spatial and urban planning, forest management, water management, agriculture and food security, nature conservation and restoration, rural development, ecosystem accounting and mitigation/adaptation to climate change.

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