After the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes that struck southern Turkey and western Syria on February 6, NASA is working to share its aerial images and data from space in a way that will help relief and recovery workers in the region. and to improve our ability to model and predict such events.
“NASA’s hearts and minds are with those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA is our eyes in the sky, and our teams of experts work hard to bring valuable information from our Earth observation fleet to first responders on the ground.”
One of NASA’s key strengths is its expertise in Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. Observing the Earth in all weather conditions, day or night, SAR is used to measure how the earth moves and the landscape changes after this type of event.
Plots collected before and after the earthquake were used by a team of scientists from the Earth Observatory in Singapore and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California to create a so-called damage proxy map for Turkey. These maps compare radar images of a particular event before and after to see how the landscape has changed. Members of NASA’s Earth Science Applied Sciences Disaster Program, as well as national and international collaborators, provide such maps to a wide range of organizations, such as the US State Department, the California Seismic Safety Commission, Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief, and the World Bank.
While NASA members actively participate in coordination calls organized by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), they also provide observations and maps through their Disaster Mapping Portal.
“NASA takes seriously its commitment to open science and making information widely available,” said Laurie Schultz, NASA’s earthquake response coordinator. “We don’t know everyone who uses this information or how, but we’ve been fortunate enough to hear back from several groups. For example, the World Central Kitchen, which provides food to those displaced, told us that it uses it.’
In addition to assessing damage, NASA scientists use space and ground-based observations to improve the agency’s ability to understand the related events that cascade from the initial disaster.
Using data from the Commercial SmallSat Data Acquisition program, which receives observations from commercial satellites to help meet NASA’s research goals, as well as from NOAA and international space agencies in Europe and Japan, scientists can identify areas that may be prone to increased landslide risks. Other satellites, such as Suomi-NPP and observations of nighttime lights, can show the location of a power outage.
Although it is not yet in use, NASA scientists hope to add a new tool to assess the effects of an earthquake. The Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, or EMIT, instrument was launched to the International Space Station in July 2022. As part of his observations of the composition of the material in the Earth’s atmosphere, he can estimate methane emissions. Attached to the space station, the time and location of the EMIT observation is determined by the station’s orbit. But when passing over an earthquake site, measurements of increased or new emissions can indicate events that are otherwise easy to see from space.
“Relief efforts include tracking cascading disasters, such as man-made disasters caused by natural disasters,” said Shanna McClain, manager of NASA’s Disaster Program. “We want to quickly identify damaged infrastructure and pipeline breaks to protect the health of people nearby.”
EMIT’s ability to assist in such efforts is being evaluated as part of NASA’s ongoing efforts to improve its observations, models, and analyses. More such work will continue in the coming weeks as researchers draw on information from the event to improve their earthquake simulations – key research models that can be used to assess how safe an area is in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake. For example, the East Anatolian fault line that caused this earthquake intersects with others in the region. Better models of ground motion around a fault can give scientists crucial insight into whether and where to expect aftershocks.