Next week, over 25,000 scientists spanning the full range of Earth, ocean, atmospheric and planetary sciences will gather in San Francisco for the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). It is the largest geoscience conference in the world, drawing researchers from every corner of the globe to the Moscone Center. This year is particularly special, as the AGU is celebrating its centennial. As such, the theme of the meeting this year is “Celebrate the Past, Inspire the Future.”
Planet has had a presence at the AGU fall meetings for the past four years. It started as a small handful of conference presentations, mostly by Planeteers explaining our satellites and imagery. But since then, the impact of Planet on Earth science has notably increased. This year, a whopping 60 abstracts presented at the conference will feature research utilizing imagery from our PlanetScope, RapidEye and SkySat constellations, with many of the researchers having harnessed the power of Planet data through our Education and Research program. View the list of abstracts here.
Here are just a few examples of how Planet’s data proved valuable:
In July of this year, there was a 6.4 earthquake in Searles Valley, California and a 7.1 earthquake in Ridgecrest, California, both of which occurred within 34 hours of each other. A group led by Kejie Chen at the California Institute of Technology utilized Planet imagery acquired shortly before and after the quakes to look at the resulting surface ruptures. By combining these observations with GPS data and geophysical modelling, they were able to determine the actual plate motion responsible for the quake.
Researchers out of UCLA and UC Berkeley led by Abinash Bhattachan combined Planet imagery with high-resolution LiDAR data to look at places in the Los Angeles area where water collects after storms. Places with standing water are ripe breeding grounds for mosquitoes, posing a particular risk of West Nile Virus in the area. Using Planet data to calculate the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI)—a remote sensing-derived index that can be used to monitor changes in water—they were able to determine how long water remained present in topographic depressions, allowing for mapping of potential mosquito disease transmission risk areas.
PREPARING FOR VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS
A group at Michigan Technological University headed up by Quelyn Bekkering applied daily PlanetScope imagery to monitor changes in vegetation health around Hawaiian volcanoes. Their hypothesis was that increases in heat and emissions of noxious gases—potential precursors for a volcanic eruption—would have a measurable effect on the health of plants near the volcano. With the help of PlanetScope images, researchers were able to calculate vegetation health using a parameter called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). They found a “clear decrease” in NDVI—a signal that the plants in the area were stressed—at a particular location in 2018 in the time leading up to a notable eruption. These results suggest that monitoring plant health from orbit on rapid timescales may provide another way to help predict volcanic eruptions.
CROP YIELD ANALYSIS
NASA’s Earth Science Division also facilitated access to Planet imagery for some groups of researchers, and many of the first new results of this effort will be presented at AGU. Through this program, groups out of the University of Washington are using machine learning to rapidly analyze PlanetScope and SkySat images to study snow cover and depth and its impacts on hydrology and ecology. Matthew Hansen and Sergii Skakun, both members of the NASA Harvest program at the University of Maryland, are working on crop yield analysis utilizing a fusion of PlanetScope, Landsat and Sentinel-2 imagery.
TRACKING REFUGEE CAMP GROWTH
Hannah Freidrich and Jamon Van Dan Hoek at Oregon State University are using a combination of Landsat and PlanetScope time series imagery to automatically detect the establishment and growth of refugee camps. Their current proving ground is in Uganda, but the automated methodology they have developed can be applied at scale beyond those borders.
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From deserts to ice to tiny insects to human impacts on a global scale—we’re honored that the applications of Planet imagery have a broad reach in scientific research. What would you research if you had daily coverage of a particular area or feature that was of interest to you?
Planet will have a presence in the exhibit hall at AGU for the first time this year! If you’re going to be at the conference, pop by to learn more about our products, use cases and opportunities for researchers. Plus, you can pick up some cool outer space swag!