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Typhoon Haiyan's worst destruction mapped with satellite data

Image: Tacloban
NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI
NASA-Generated Damage Map To Assist With Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Response
A damage map generated by NASA software from satellite data indicates which human-habited areas of the the Philippines were worst hit by Haiyan.NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

With their eyes in the sky, NASA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) are mapping out areas in the Philippines worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. The maps are publicly available, and can be a resource for first responders looking to target their relief efforts. (Click here for a larger size.)

Radar data collected by the ASI's COSMO-SkyMed satellite quartet, before and after the storm hit, was collated by software developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs specifically for rapid response after natural disasters. 

A "prototype algorithm" sifted through the satellite information to pinpoint locations where surface features had changed the most, NASA JPL explains in a press release. The results are overlaid on Google Earth images, where the reddest zones indicate where most of the destruction was concentrated.

About three months of satellite data, from Aug. 19 to Nov. 11, was fed into the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis program — ARIA for short — and chewed through within 11 hours, NASA claims. Besides its speed, the program is also useful because it is fine-tuned specifically to spot destruction in cities and towns, where human populations are focused.

ARIA also mapped damage after Superstorm Sandy, tsunami damage after the Tohoku earthquake in Japan in 2011, and after the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake the same year.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.