Satellite radar sensors to help map floods

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Australians could receive faster and more accurate warnings of devastating floods thanks to satellite technology and radar imaging sensors, a Queensland study has found.

Scientists combined optical satellite images with information from imaging radar satellites, allowing them to peer through cloud cover.

Researchers from the University of Queensland say the data is more detailed and could allow authorities to protect and warn communities at risk.

Flood monitoring was a challenge for authorities as floodwaters rose and receded within days, said Professor Noam Levin of UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Whereas large satellites in the past provided images every seven to 14 days, now clusters of small satellites can collect multiple images per day from the same location,” Professor Levin said.

“Radar imaging sensors can provide images at night or on days of heavy cloud cover – a huge advantage in stormy conditions.

“They use a flash, like on a camera, and the light is sent at wavelengths between 1mm and 1.0m, which can pass through clouds and smoke.”

During the deadly February 2022 floods in Brisbane, researchers combined daytime satellite images showing the extent of the flooding with imaging radar and nighttime optical data from lights associated with human activity.

“We could see which areas were getting dark as the floodwaters encroached,” Prof Levin said.

“We compared this with data from river gauges operated by the Bureau of Meteorology and with changes in electrical loads reported by Energex, the electricity provider.”

By using existing flood monitoring and modeling technologies, the technique could change the way flood events were monitored.

“With faster update times – at least twice a day – and more accurate and timely data, flood monitoring agencies can assess changes and alert people in at-risk areas,” the official said. co-author, Professor Stuart Phinn.

“This technique can also be used post-disaster to assess the extent of damage, direct recovery efforts, and for the assessment of insurance claims.”

The team used optical satellites from Planet Inc and NASA’s VIIRS, as well as imaging radar satellites from Capella.

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