Water. It's vital to our lives. It keeps us hydrated and clean, is essential for food production and is even the focal point during a relaxing vacation at the beach or lake.
But when there's too much, it can be devastating.
On June 22 and the days following, floodwaters ravaged downtown Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and took over the area. More than 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate the "Stampede City" and nearby towns.
In the midst of the disaster, a new NASA camera aboard the International Space Station (ISS), called the ISS SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System (ISERV), snapped 24 images of the flooded area. The ISERV team sent photos of the scene to Canadian officials to help with response and assessment.
"My heart goes out to my fellow Canadians affected by the disaster,” said Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned from the International Space Station in May after a six-month mission. "I am also proud that we are using the unique view from the space station with ISERV to help make response efforts more effective. The space station has a global reach in its ability to help those in need and make lives better here on Earth."
In January, Hadfield helped install ISERV in the Earth-facing window of the space station's Destiny module. From that vantage point, nearly 95 percent of the planet's populated area is visible during the station's orbit, so the window is the perfect perch for taking photos of Earth from space. Researchers on the ground use the high-resolution camera to acquire image data of specific areas of the globe. These images are helping decision makers address environmental issues, humanitarian crises and disasters -- such as the recent floods in Canada.
The ISERV system, based on a modified commercial telescope and driven by custom software, uses its downward viewpoint to obtain near real-time images and transmits the data within hours to scientists and decision-makers on Earth.
"The [space] station imagery captured over Calgary is a great example of the importance of high-resolution optical images for flood mapping in urban environments, weather permitting," said Alice Deschamps, alternate lead for the Emergency Geomatics Service (EGS), Earth Observation and Geosolutions Division, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing at Natural Resources Canada. "It is a complementary source of information to the large area Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)-based flood mapping products generated by EGS. Our team will use the photos for validation purposes as we move forward with improving our SAR flood mapping algorithms."
"I'm happy that this NASA camera can help the space station lend support to countries around the world, making the station even more of an international asset," said Dan Irwin, project director of NASA's SERVIR project. "ISERV is proving itself as a testbed that will inform the development of future operational systems."
ISERV was developed by NASA to support a joint project between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) known as SERVIR, Spanish for "to serve." The SERVIR project provides satellite data and tools to environmental decision-makers in developing countries and operates via regional hubs in Nairobi, Kenya; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Panama City. Through these hubs, SERVIR provides decision-support data, tools and applications for drought and flood monitoring, landslide probability mapping, disease incidence mapping, air quality and environmental condition monitoring and more.
In a major disaster that requires data processing and map development, SERVIR hubs are sometimes requested to function as project managers under the United Nations International Charter for Space and Major Disasters. That charter is responsible for the acquisition and disbursement of a variety of data describing the affected areas. The data is used for assessment and monitoring of conditions following a disaster. The hubs can command the ISERV system to take image of scenes of Earth's surface in their countries to gather image data for addressing environmental issues and disasters.
Disasters can strike at any time -- with or without warning. With technology like ISERV aboard the International Space Station, researchers share a common goal: to make life on Earth better for people of all nations.