Research Highlights / Full Story

Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology processed satellite imagery of regions in Japan affected by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated sections of the country's east coast on March 11, 2011. The U.S. Geological Survey, a member of the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters," organized the volunteer effort involving 10 organizations, including RIT, Harvard University, George Mason University, Penn State, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

RIT's part was to process images of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and the cities of Hachinohe and Kesennuma. At the request of the Japanese, scientists at RIT created before-and-after images that could be printed on large sheets of paper. The team uploaded 30-megabyte PDFs to the U.S. Geological Survey's website forcharter members and Japanese emergency responders to access.

The RIT team processed the imagery looking into the reactors and the containment shells taken by a satellite on March 12, the day after the earthquake and tsunami hit and prior to the explosions at the plant. Subsequent image-maps from March 18 showed extensive damage and a smoldering reactor.

"We were tasked with producing an image map of the nuclear plant the morning of March 18th and we uploaded it about 6 that night," says Don McKeown, distinguished researcher in the Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

The 13-hour time difference made the work flow difficult, notes Dave Messinger, associate research professor and director of the digital imaging and remote sensing laboratory. "While we're doing this here, it's the middle of the night there, so the feedback loops are slow."

The RIT team mapped the area surrounding the power plant as well, processing imagery for a broader view of the terrain used as farmland. "We prepared a large image of Fukushima," McKeown adds. "This is an agricultural region potentially subject to restrictions for food originating in this area."

The RIT team, led by McKeown and Messinger, includes graduate students Sanjit Maitra and Weihua "Wayne" Sun in the Center for Imaging Science and staff members Steve Cavilia, Chris DiAngelis, Jason Faulring, and Nina Raqueño. They created the maps using imagery from WorldView 1 and WorldView 2 satellites operated by Digital Globe, a member of RIT's Information Products Laboratory for Emergency Response (IPLER), and GeoEye 1, a high-resolution commercial satellite operated by GeoEye Inc.

"This really fits what IPLER is all about-information products," McKeown says.