NASA's New 'Nowcast' Model Uses Satellites to Predict Landslides Before They Happen

Friday, 23 March 2018 - 11:01AM
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NASA
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Friday, 23 March 2018 - 11:01AM
NASA's New 'Nowcast' Model Uses Satellites to Predict Landslides Before They Happen
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Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Scientific Visualization Studio

Of all the things for NASA to get involved in, landslide prediction is probably one of the more surprising.

 

Between the new Kilopower project and preparing for the deadly asteroid Bennu, it seems like NASA's attention is firmly fixed on the stars, but it looks like they still find time to use their extensive network of satellites to do some good here on Earth.

 

This new project is the first of its kind and may allow for real-time warnings of landslides across the world.



Despite being more widespread than any other geological event, landslides are still one of the hardest to predict and effectively deal with. 

 

According to Dalia Kirschbaum of Goddard Space Center, "Landslides can cause widespread destruction and fatalities, but we really don't have a complete sense of where and when landslides may be happening to inform disaster response and mitigation."

 

To help with this, Goddard has created a model (whose details were published in the journal Earth's Future) that takes into account multiple factors to predict where and when landslides will strike. 


Though landslides can be the secondary result of a volcanic eruption or earthquake, NASA has settled on five more common factors to watch for: hillsides with steep inclines, nearby roads, deforestation, weak bedrock, and nearby tectonic faults. If an area with several of these factors present ends up getting a lot of rainfall (which can break apart the soil and trigger a landslide), NASA can monitor it in real time and send a warning to the area, potentially saving lives.



The key to this new initiative is the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, an existing effort by NASA and Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency that gives an updated estimate of rainfall across the world every 30 minutes. With the new landslide model, that rainfall information can be turned into a "nowcast" that warns areas of increased landslide risk with unprecedented speed.

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