News Sentinels activated for NSW floods

The CEMS agreement between Australia and the European Union gives emergency services ‘radar vision’.

Last updated:18 June 2024

In March 2021, New South Wales was struck with extreme rainfall resulting in significant flooding in a number of areas along its central and northern coastline.

Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites allowed the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) to come into action, lending a hand to rescue efforts.

The March torrential rain led to record-breaking floods, causing outpouring from dams and rupturing of rivers, and forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Data from the Sentinel-1 mission of the European Union's Copernicus program was used to map flooded areas to help response and relief efforts, along with those from other missions such as RADARSAT-2, TerraSAR-X, and COSMO-SkyMed.

Before-and-after (7 March versus 19 March) of floods at Kempsey NSW, captured by radar data from the European Union’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by Sentinel Hub.

Copernicus Sentinel-1's radar ability to 'see' through clouds and rain, whether in day or night, makes it particularly useful for monitoring floods. Images acquired before and after flooding offer immediate information on the extent of inundation, while also supporting assessments of property and environmental damage.

On March 20, Geoscience Australia, on behalf of Emergency Management Australia and state emergency services, requested activation of the European Union's Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) through its Authorised User, the European Delegation to Australia. Geoscience Australia liaised with emergency service organisations in Australia to optimise requests to CEMS Rapid Mapping Team.

Products provided by CEMS are being used in damage impact assessment, emergency response planning, and to underpin disaster impact relief funding arrangements. The inability to deploy aircraft for aerial surveys has meant that Australia has relied heavily on RADAR systems, including the Copernicus Sentinel-1 SAR to see floods beneath the clouds.

Flood situation

For this particular activation, CEMS did not request a specific programming of Sentinel-1 observations from the European Space Agency (ESA), but exploited the acquisitions already part of the standard observation plan, which met the needs of emergency services and governments, especially at the time of the activation.

Observation segment

The vital CEMS satellite products were used for decision-making at the highest levels of Australian Government in briefing the Prime Minister, through to the New South Wales State Emergency Service, where they helped to determine where to deploy personnel.

"Sentinel-1 and other SAR capabilities on offer through the Copernicus program have been invaluable in mapping the extent of the floods to ensure our emergency services are able to respond effectively to the disaster," says Simon Oliver, Geoscience Australia's Earth Observation Emergency Management Coordinator.

Dr Michael Pulch, Ambassador, EU Delegation to Australia, adds, "The EU's Copernicus Emergency Management Service supports crisis response around the world. The EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre rapidly responded to Australia's request for assistance over the weekend, as it has done in the past for bushfire and flood emergencies. This open and free service relies on the Copernicus satellite constellations, which include satellites that can see through clouds with their radar imaging. These satellites cover areas that are not possible to get to on the ground, and mapped the extent of the floods in NSW and Queensland to help target state emergency services activities."

Aerometrex Managing Director, Mark Deuter, says, "The scale of this disaster makes it extremely difficult to identify and assist individual people who have been affected on a case-by-case basis. The analytics our team generated, using flood extents from CEMS alongside MetroMap imagery and data sets from our partner, Geoscape, helped highlight properties and specific buildings that could potentially be impacted. This is an outstanding example of the power of geospatial insights and collaboration in assisting the reconstruction and recovery process, within days of receiving satellite data."

Australia's international agreements

Geoscience Australia coordinates activation of the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters as well as to the European Union's Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) on behalf of Emergency Management Australia and state emergency services. This means when crises hit, Australia can gain rapid access to satellite imagery and information products from satellite data operators around the world to assist emergency managers.

About the Copernicus Sentinels

The Copernicus Sentinels are a fleet of dedicated EU-owned satellites, designed to deliver the wealth of data and imagery that are central to the European Union's Copernicus environmental program.

The European Commission leads and coordinates the program to improve management of the environment, safeguarding lives every day. The European Space Agency (ESA) is in charge of the space component, responsible for developing the family of Copernicus Sentinel satellites on behalf of the European Union, and ensuring the flow of data for the Copernicus services, while the operations of the Copernicus Sentinels have been entrusted to ESA and EUMETSAT.

Article source: Sentinel Online — The European Space Agency. Republished with permission.