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Remote Sensing Specialists assisted with a project in Japan

GISCorps was contacted by the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) shortly after a massive earthquake hit the northeast region of

Japan. The request was on behalf of a fellow member of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters (Charter), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). They requested experienced remote sensing specialists who could quickly access, process, and publish high resolution imageries from various resources (all disseminated by the Charter).  The goal of the project was to analyze satellite imagery to help guide the emergency response efforts for the coastal communities that were either directly impacted by the tsunami inundation or, at the time, had not reported their condition.

A call for qualified volunteers was sent out and in less than 24 hours, Terry Winemiller, an associate professor from Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama and his team of students were recruited for the project. Terry and his team along with several other contributors delivered many high quality products in an incredibly short time. All products can be accessed from the Charter’s Japan webpage. The following report provides more details about their efforts.

By Dr. Terance L. Winemiller, Ph.D., GISP
Associate Professor of Anthropology and Geography
Auburn University at Montgomery

After GISCorps assigned responsibility for this project to Auburn University at Montgomery, we received the geographic coordinates for three areas of interest located on the northern coast of Japan, access to public and restricted areas on the USGS EROS Hazards Data Distribution System HDDS, and access to a project Google document. Our assignment was to search for data on the HDDS public and restricted databases and other public sites for coverage of the three areas of interest, Miyagi-Kamaishi, Iwate-Miyako, and Iwate-Miyakoshi. The learning curve for this project was very steep. The project management team consisted of a professional team from the US Geological Survey that included Brenda Jones, Gerald Bawden, and Rynn Lamb. They designed a system of updates which enabled rapid identification of data coverage in assigned areas as they became available. We were able to track the addition of imagery by sensor using shape-files downloaded from the USGS FTP site. Coverage polygons by sensor were added as a layer in a master GIS created in ArcMap 10.0., with additional layers for prefectures, country boundaries, drainage, tsunami areas, earthquake areas, and geocoded points for the three areas of interest.

An Example of a final product submitted to the Charter

Involvement in this project required the ability to sift through and ingest large amounts of data from a variety of sensors and platforms in a short period of time. After data were downloaded, they were processed in ENVI 4.8 using a variety of procedures including resampling, sub-setting, building mosaics, georeferencing, and applying various enhancements to improve assessment of the extent of damage caused by tsunami and earthquake activity. The need for rapid deployment of initial assessment maps required processing and interpretation of data which were not ideal in terms of resolution, scale, and presence of clouds. In those cases maps were produced then HDDS sites monitored for replacement imagery. Early on, post-disaster imagery was difficult to locate or available in less desirable platforms. By monitoring the HDDS site and revised shape file polygons we were able to identify potential coverage efficiently and produce maps quickly. Original data were processed and enhanced in ENVI 4.8. Final maps were produced in ArcMap 10.0., by creating multiple data frames for small scale pre-disaster and post-disaster scenes as well as large scale insets to illustrate highly impacted zones in the area of interest. Involvement in this project provided an invaluable opportunity for students enrolled in our GIS program to gain real-world experience in a disaster situation where GIS project design, development, and operations require deployment of high-quality output in an extraordinarily short period of time. We are continuing to monitor updates for data to revise existing maps.

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