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Satellite tells on floods

04 January, 2011

Emergency authorities responding to devastating floods across central New South Wales have new tool at their disposal courtesy of satellite radar experts at UNSW.

Associate Professor Linlin Ge, of the School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems (SSIS), is leading a team of geospatial researchers providing high-definition satellite radar images of the floods around Narromine, Forbes and Wagga to the State Emergency Service, following a request from the NSW Land and Property Management Authority.

This is the first time the InSAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry) images, taken from Italian and German satellites, have been used by authorities in flood monitoring.

Associate Professor Ge said the high-definition, cloud-penetrating satellite radar provided vital information on the location of floodwaters to emergency services when heavy weather or cloud cover prevented airborne monitoring or images from weather satellites.

"Satellite radar imaging is faster than airborne photography and surveying, with images available within six hours of their being taken. A satellite can image a 40km by 40km area within 10 seconds," he said.

"It's best to use airborne photography to cover hotspots and satellite imaging to provide broadacre coverage."

Since the flooding began two weeks ago, a team of 10 researchers in SSIS have been working around the clock to decode images within an hour of receiving them from European ground stations in twice-daily updates, before passing them on to authorities. Other partners of the emergency response include the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change & Water (DECCW), NSW Land and Property Management Authority, NSW State Emergency Service (SES), and the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI).

The initiative was covered in a report by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Associate Professor Ge said there was a huge shortage of qualified professionals able to perform the type of spatial analysis required to conduct disaster monitoring and other Geoinformation Systems (GIS) tasks such as climate change and environmental monitoring.

"Demand for graduates in NSW alone is in the order of 60 to 100 a year and we are producing about 15," he said.

SSIS is launching a new undergraduate program in Geoinformation Systems next year to encourage more students into the field.

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