12:13 PM

USRA Team Supports Response to Hurricane Eta

Columbia MD—December 28, 2020. USRA scientists Thomas Stanley, Robert Emberson and Pukar Amatya and their colleagues at NASA combined their expertise to generate landslide products used by various agencies in Central America. This landslide team at NASA Goddard’s Hydrological Sciences Laboratory made a phenomenal contribution that demonstrates a quick response with their research tools developed for rapid deployment in disasters.

For example, within hours of Hurricane Eta’s landfall and flooding rains, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center including those from USRA worked to predict landslides and map the storm’s aftermath. Thomas Stanley developed landslide hazard awareness systems using a computer model. Robert Emberson was involved in quantifying exposure and Pukar Amatya analyzed satellite data to map the resulting landslides, some of which were successfully predicted by the hazard model. Together they were able to generate information that the NASA Earth Science Disasters program shared with national and international emergency response agencies to provide better insight of the hazards to personnel on the ground.

The deadliest of the landslides after Eta occurred in San Cristobal Verapaz, Guatemala, on November 5. Extreme rainfall triggered a massive landslide that may have entombed more than 100 people and buried much of the small farming village of Quejá. The images of Quejá landslide and smaller nearby landslides as observed on November 10, 2020 in the following figure:

Image credits: NASA/GSFC/Joshua Stevens/Robert Emberson

The landslide areas were computed by NASA’s Semi-Automatic Landslide Detection (SALaD) system, which uses machine learning to detect landslides from satellite imagery; in this case, the team used the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite.

“The program found about 30 landslides in the area where the Quejá landslide occurred,” said Dr. Pukar Amatya, an associate scientist with USRA at NASA Goddard and leader of the mapping effort. Amatya developed SALaD, an open source landslide detection algorithm for production of landslides inventories, which can be used for susceptibility, hazard, risk studies and rapid response efforts.

The significance of the work of this team lies in the fact that they created a highly improved capability to determine hazard awareness, hazard exposure and mapping landslide occurrences – all for the benefit of communities that might be hit with disaster. Since it is Open Source software, it can be quickly used by any one free of cost and consequently serves as an invaluable tool for emergency response team personnel.

Future efforts will include continual refinement of these products.

Related Resources:

This landslide research is funded in part through NASA’s Disasters Program A.37 ROSES research project “Enabling Landslide Disaster Risk Reduction and Response throughout the disaster life cycle with a multi-scale toolbox” and A.40 Understanding Changes in High Mountain Asia and Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program (https://earthdata.nasa.gov/esds/csdap).

Disasters products: https://disasters.nasa.gov/what-we-do/disasters/disasters-activations/hurricane-eta-2020


About USRA

Universities Space Research Association is an independent, nonprofit research corporation where the combined efforts of in-house talent and university-based expertise merge to advance space science and technology. USRA works across disciplines including biomedicine, planetary science, astrophysics, and engineering and integrates those competencies into applications ranging from fundamental research to facility management and operations. USRA engages the creativity and authoritative expertise of the research community to develop and deliver sophisticated, forward-looking solutions to Federal agencies and other government sponsors.