Laos: Satellite maps compiled in Luxembourg analyse the disaster

Published on 10/08/2018

On the evening of 23 July 2018, in Southeast Asia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) was struck by monsoon rains which caused the collapse of a hydroelectric dam, releasing billions of cubic metres of water onto the surrounding villages and resulting in several thousands of people affected. A few hours following the tragedy, on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Applications Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), activated the International Charter Space and Major Disasters. This worldwide collaboration allows satellite data to be transmitted to assist in the management of disasters of natural or human origin, in particular through mobilising remote sensing agencies and players.

International calls

In order to offer as much satellite data as possible for the disaster-stricken geographical area, quickly and reliably, UNOSAT worked with institutions worldwide. Amongst these, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) was called on as a value added provider, a major first for the Luxembourg research institute.

LIST was invited to become involved as part of the very recent "Disaster RIsk Financing and Transfer" (e-DRIFT) research project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) in partnership with the World Bank and whose test cases concern the specific regions affected by the disaster. As part of this project, LIST plays a role in compiling an archive of flooding observed by the various satellites operating in Southeast Asia over the period 2002-2018, helping to define the flood risk in this region more accurately.

Satellite maps to assist the authorities

In partnership with the Italian CIMA Research Foundation, LIST has supplied maps documenting the extent of the flooding as it correlates to the passing of satellites. Constituting a preliminary analysis of the disaster-stricken areas made possible through the use of a scientifically-validated data extraction algorithm, these maps are of great use to on-site authorities, helping them to deal with the urgency of the situation. They enabled LIST researchers with expertise in hydrodynamic remote sensing and modelling and their Italian colleagues to identify:

  • a total area of 7,405 hectares of land flooded in the Sanamxay District four days after the collapse of the dam under construction, drawing on radar images from German satellites TerraSar-X and Tandem-X acquired on 27 July 2018;
  • an area of 1,617 hectares of land flooded along the Xe Kong River in the Samakkhixay District one week after the disaster, drawing on images acquired by Korean satellite Kompsat-5 on 30 July 2018.

Available on the UNOSAT site, these maps have also been provided to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), a partnership framework between the United Nations, the European Commission and those responsible for disaster management across the globe, with a view to improving disaster alerts, the sharing of information and coordination in the initial phase following major disasters. They are thereby integrated into the GDACS Live map which consolidates all the satellite data analysed by the stakeholders concerned.

Proven expertise

LIST researchers have already contributed their expertise to the management of natural disasters in the past. For example, in 2017, their maps were used by the American authorities to help manage Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. For more information on this topic, please (re)visit the article "IRMA ET HARVEY : Les USA utilisent des cartes d’inondations faites au Luxembourg" (IRMA AND HARVEY: USA used flood maps made in Luxembourg) published on 14 September 2017.

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Marco CHINI
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Patrick MATGEN PhD
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