Feb 05, 2019

Satellites allow for accurate flood mapping

Satellites allow for accurate flood mapping Satellite imagery yesterday of the Townsville flooding. Photo: UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

University of New South Wales researchers are providing accurate maps of the Townsville flood frontier within an hour using the latest satellite radar imaging technology.

Record-breaking floods threatening North Queensland are being mapped by the Sydney researchers to provide snapshots of rising floodwaters, where previously such images were slow to produce and were hampered by poor visibility.

Using European satellites that are fitted with radar imaging technology able to penetrate cloud cover, the UNSW researchers are able to put together an accurate and comprehensive flood map in less than an hour.

This new type of flood intelligence could allow authorities to make decisions about critical infrastructure, such as switching off power stations, before floodwaters can reach them.

Professor Linlin Ge, from UNSW’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said this was the first time such advanced satellite technology had been used to map flooded areas from space.

“First, we download very large volumes of satellite data from the European Space Agency,” Prof Ge said.

“Then we process that data at UNSW to generate comprehensive maps to show the extent of the floods.”

Professor Ge said he and his researchers, part of the Geoscience and Earth Observing Systems Group, were previously involved with amassing such data using less advanced satellite technology during the 2011 floods that ravaged southern Queensland.

At that time, they provided their data directly to the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.

This time around, the group went for a simpler strategy and made the data available to all via social media, and it can be viewed by following the Twitter hashtag #UNSW-GEOS.

Before this latest technology, getting a composite, accurate and up-to-date image of floods had been difficult.

Prof Ge said heavy rain, strong winds, thick cloud and lightning could make it impossible or dangerous to fly aircraft to monitor floods.

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