Remote Sensing for Disaster Management

Tania Maria Sausen , María Silvia Pardi Lacruz

The book comes as a solid tool for disaster management: floods and spates, droughts, wildfires, landslide and oil spill are objects of study. The applications for remote sensing data embrace disaster monitoring and prevention, as well as the mitigation, preparation, response and recovery stages.

Remote sensing for disasters is supported by three main lines: disaster concept and classification; remote sensing applications and kinds of disaster sensors; and accessibility to remote sensing data.

Filled with real examples, explanatory charts and up-to-date data, the book not only is indicated for professionals in remote sensing and environmental management areas, but also is a valuable ally for disaster managers, such as emergency management and others means to protect populations and natural resources.

Original title
Sensoriamento remoto para desastres
Year of publication

About the authors

Tania Maria Sausen

Tania Maria Sausen is a retired researcher from National Institute of Spatial Researches (Inpe), consulting partner in GS Engenharia Ltda., consulting-editor for Latin America in Geospatial Media & Communication and creator and responsible for the Research and Application of Technologies in Natural Disasters and Extreme Events for the Region and Mercosul Group (Geodesastres-Sul) of South Regional Center (CRS) of National Institute of Spatial Research (Inpe) between 2007 and 2013. Graduated in Geography by Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), has a masters in Remote Sensing by Inpe and a doctorate in Geography by University of São Paulo (USP).

Author's CV (in portuguese).

María Silvia Pardi Lacruz

María Silvia Pardi Lacruz is an assistant teacher in the Multidisciplinary Department in the Decentralized Unit of University Education of Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM) in Silveira Martins (RS). Graduated in Geography by the Central University of Venezuela, has a masters and a doctorate in Remote Sensing by Inpe. Experienced in remote sensing and geographic information systems, acts mainly with remote sensing for vegetal cover, usage dynamics and soil coverage, natural areas conservation and geotechnologies for natural disasters.

Author's CV (in portuguese).

1. Natural disasters

1.1 Concepts

1.2 Natural disasters classification

1.3 Natural disasters in the world

1.4 Natural disasters in Brazil

1.5 Final considerations


2. Remote sensing for (risk) management of natural disasters

2.1 Concepts

2.2 Prevention and mitigation

2.3 Studies of threat and vulnerability

2.4 Probable risk scenario construction

2.5 Remote sensing application in prevention and mitigation

2.6 Preparation

2.7 Monitoring and alert

2.8 Remote sensing applications in preparation, highlighting for monitoring and alert

2.9 Response to disasters

2.10 Applications of remote sensing in response

2.11 Recovering

2.12 Applications of remote sensing in recovering

2.13 Pros and cons of remote sensing data usage for risk management of natural disasters


3. Sensor systems and disasters

3.1 General informations and contextualization

3.2 Useful information for disasters management obtained by remote sensing data

3.3 Disasters management

3.4 Satellites and sensors for natural disasters


4. Accessibility to remote sensing data

4.1 Accessibility to commercial data

4.2 Access to commercial data from optic sensors

4.3 Access to commercial data from microwaves sensors

4.4 When to purchase images

4.5 History of satellite data reception and recording in Inpe

4.6 Center of Remote Sensing Data (CDSR)

4.7 International Charter Space and Major Disasters

4.8 Functional unities of International Charter


5. Remote sensing for flood and spate

5.1 What is flood and what is spate?

5.2 Remote sensing data for flood and spate

5.3 Selection of remote sensing data for flood and spate studies

5.4 Microwave data for flood mapping

5.5 Emergency maps of flood

5.6 Danger map, risk and vulnerability to flood

5.7 Remote sensing data for alert systems and floods and spates alarm


6. Remote sensing for dryness/ drought

6.1 Dryness and drought

6.2 Remote sensing data usage for dryness events studies

6.3 Dryness indices

6.4 Dryness indices with remote sensing data usage

6.5 Remote sensing usage for dryness management


7. Remote sensing for wildfire

7.1 Contextualization

7.2 Factors that affect wildfire

7.3 Characterization of wildfire with remote sensing data

7.4 Wildfire monitoring with remote sensing data

7.5 Wildfire risk maps

7.6 Impact evaluation maps for wildfire

7.7 Quantification of wildfire affected areas

7.8 Best praxis for remote sensing data usage in wildfire

7.9 Pros and cons of remote sensing data usage for wildfire evaluation


8. Remote sensing for landslides

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Landslides events characterization with remote sensing data

8.3 Landslides events dimensioning with remote sensing data

8.4 Historical data usage for landslides events

8.5 Landslides risk maps

8.6 Landslides events monitoring

8.7 Evaluation of damages caused by landslides events

8.8 Emergency maps for response to landslides events

8.9 Pros and cons of remote sensing data usage for landslides


9. Remote sensing for oil spill

9.1 Oil spill

9.2 Remote sensors for oil spill: passive and active

9.3 Applications in prevention, planning and readiness to oil spill

9.4 Response to oil spill applications

9.5 Applications in impact evaluation and recovering actions to oil spill


Since the launch of the Earth’ first observation satellite in July 23th 1972, initially denominated Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS 1) and later Landsat-1, as it became known, the studies on Earth’s surface, its natural resources and associated phenomena went through an actual revolution.

When the first image generated by a remote sensor on Landsat-1 was presented to mankind never again the man saw the Earth with the same eyes. Now we could see it as the birds always did for millions of years: in a synoptic manner, repetitive. And with the assistance of technology we can obtain data in several bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, widening our vision and understanding of natural resources.

Through the years new satellites and sensors appeared, more and more sophisticated and able to enhance our ability to map the place we live in, our country, our continent. With remote sensing data we were able to study and map natural resources to learn how to better exploit them, without impinging the environment, to better plan soil usage and occupation, expansion and appearance of urban areas and the establishment of new roads. Besides, it is also an excellent tool to broad crop production, so the food would go to every table with better quality and plenty.

Disasters happen around the world very frequently and affect the developed countries just as much as the developing ones, causing damage to all the strata of society, from wealthier to poorer without distinction. However, the strata in which the population presents a lower level of education and purchasing power are the ones who suffer the most to recover from the disasters damages.

Asia is the continent with higher occurrence of disasters, especially by natural causes, such as intense rainfall or dryness, cyclones, hurricanes and earthquakes. For being such a populous region, natural disasters in this continent cause a great number of victims. The American continent stands in the second place in the records of occurrence of disasters.

The report The state of the world’s refugees: in search of solidarity, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), presented in May 31st 2012 affirms natural disaster and climate changes resulting from global warming are dislocating more and more people, and there are already more dislocated people resulting from these disasters than from armed conflicts. However, ONU’s 1951 Refugee Convention didn’t predict protection mechanisms for this kind of forced dislocation, and the victims of natural disasters find themselves in a situation of extreme vulnerability, in need of shelter, material support and guarantee of civil rights.

Remote sensing data, by its characteristics, can be a great ally in studying, monitoring and preventing natural disasters. However, despite they’re available for free, especially in emergency situations, it can be said not even 10% of its potential is used by professionals and researchers, in the several phases of disaster. Initially these data were almost exclusively used in the response phase, but with the growing preoccupation in disaster management they’re being used in all phases, although their exploitation potential.

Considering this, for a long time Tania’s been nursing the idea of writing a book about remote sensing for disasters, which matured little by little until, in a conference about geotechnologies in Rio de Janeiro September 2013, after a few demands, finally decides to turn the idea into reality. For this she sought for partner a researcher she was certain would agree to help her push through this big task. A message was sent to María Silvia, inviting her to edit this book alongside Tania, to which was immediately accepted.

We began then to define the themes to be approached, the kind of disasters would be presented in the book, considering which occurred in most countries and, at last, the most important part of the book: the invitation to the authors who helped us to turn this book into reality. They were chosen by their expertise in the fields of remote sensing and natural disasters. To all we said we wanted a book of excellence but accessible for professionals in the both areas.

Within nine chapters the book certainly didn’t consume the subject. On the contrary, we hope for it to be the first in a series of other books and publications approaching remote sensing and disasters, and mainly to encourage the growth of the use of this technology to response, recover, reconstruction and preparation to disaster.

We, the editors, thank to DigitalGlobe, to USGS and to International Charter Space Major Disasters for authorizing the use of GeoEye-1 satellite image from Nova Friburgo region, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, obtained in January 20th 2011 to illustrate the book cover. We thank the authors for accepting our invitation and join us in this wonderful adventure of turning a book into reality. To you, readers, we hope we encouraged you to see remote sensing as a valuable tool to prevent and mitigate damaged caused by disasters.