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Satellite Tech Aids Disaster Response in Hong Kong

Image Credits: CUHK, Press Release
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In the wake of Typhoon “Haiyan’s” residual effects, Hong Kong was thrust into the throes of extreme weather conditions, with torrential rainfall wreaking havoc across the region. On 7 September 2023, the Hong Kong Observatory issued a black rainstorm warning signal at precisely 11 p.m., marking a foreboding turn of events. At around midnight, a one-hour deluge of 158.1 millimetres was officially recorded. This figure shattered all previous records, dating back to the year 1884 when meteorological data collection began in the city.

Certain areas, including the New Territories and Hong Kong Island, bore the brunt of the storm, receiving rainfall more than 200 millimetres. The result was catastrophic – widespread flooding, and in some instances, devastating landslides. The very fabric of urban life was torn asunder, with transportation systems paralysed and the daily routines of citizens thrown into disarray.

To provide a lifeline for research and disaster assessment, a team led by Professor Mei-Po Kwan, the Director of the Institute of Space and Earth Information Science (ISEIS) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and Professor Pui-Fung Ma, a Special Assistant Professor to the Vice-Chancellor, swung into action.

They are working to harness the immense potential of cutting-edge satellite technology to monitor, analyse, and respond to the unfolding catastrophe. The researchers secured access to three pivotal images captured by the National High-Resolution Earth Observation System, colloquially known as the Gaofen-3 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite and provide a unique perspective on the evolving situation.

Its ability to penetrate through clouds and precipitation sets SAR satellite technology apart from conventional optical satellites. It can pierce the veils of extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall and thick cloud cover, allowing it to conduct remote sensing and imaging with unparalleled precision. It was on September 7th that the Gaofen-3 satellite lent its powers to observe and document the crisis unfolding in the Hong Kong region, a mission that would prove invaluable.

The Institute of Space and Earth Information Science (ISEIS) at CUHK occupies a pivotal position in the realm of cutting-edge technology and scientific innovation. As the Ministry of Science and Technology’s National Remote Sensing Center based in Hong Kong, ISEIS is the sole national-level platform for science and technology innovation in satellite remote sensing within the region. It boasts the singular distinction of operating the only ground receiving station for satellite remote sensing data in Hong Kong.

Over the years, ISEIS has dedicated its expertise to the field of disaster monitoring and forecasting, all anchored on the powerful medium of remote sensing imagery. Its overarching mission is to deliver precise and timely disaster-related information, not just for Hong Kong but for the global community. By doing so, ISEIS endeavours to minimise human casualties and economic losses stemming from natural disasters.

In this instance, the institute harnessed the capabilities of the Gaofen-3 satellite to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the flooding disaster induced by relentless rainfall. This technology, which affords real-time insights even in the face of extreme weather events, has redefined our capacity to understand, predict, and respond to disasters. It is poised to play a pivotal role in the ongoing assessment and monitoring of risks associated with flooding, landslides, and other climate-related challenges.

In an era defined by the ever-increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the role of cutting-edge satellite technology in disaster management cannot be underestimated. The ability to access real-time data, penetrate through the thickest of storm clouds, and provide invaluable insights to disaster response teams is a game-changer. It empowers authorities to make informed decisions swiftly, allocate resources effectively, and, most crucially, safeguard lives and livelihoods.

The successful application of SAR satellite technology in this instance serves as a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration in addressing the challenges posed by a changing climate. It underscores the importance of investment in research, technology, and infrastructure to enhance our preparedness and resilience in the face of nature’s fury.

Looking ahead, the Institute of Space and Earth Information Science at CUHK remains committed to pushing the boundaries of technology and knowledge in the field of disaster management. It recognises that our ability to respond to the growing threats of climate change hinges on our capacity to harness the full potential of advanced technologies such as SAR satellites. By continuing to leverage these tools, researchers and policymakers can work hand in hand to develop proactive strategies, improve disaster preparedness, and ultimately, mitigate the impact of future calamities.

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