Satellites support impact assessment after Türkiye–Syria earthquakes
The initial 7.8-magnitude tremor in southeast Türkiye and northern Syria was followed by another of 7.7 magnitude – causing widespread destruction in both countries. The death toll from the earthquakes has risen to more than 33 000 as of today, with death toll continuing to rise as rescuers scramble to search for survivors trapped beneath the rubble.
The initial earthquake on 6 February, one of the most powerful seismic quakes that the region has experienced in the last century, emanated from a fault line approximately 18 km below the surface. This shallow depth meant the earthquake produced violent shaking that affected areas hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre, around 23 km east of Nurdagi, Gaziantep province.
The second quake followed around nine hours later, striking the Turkish town of Ekinözü, around 60 km to the north, with hundreds of smaller aftershocks occurred in subsequent days.
In response, Turkish authorities, along with the United Nations and the International Federation Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies, activated the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’. By combining Earth observation assets from different space agencies, the Charter provides satellite images of the affected areas to define the extent of the disaster and support local teams with their rescue efforts.
Following the activation, more than 350 crisis images from 17 space agencies across the world were delivered. They can be used to generate damage and situation maps to help estimate the hazard impact and manage relief actions in the affected areas.
The maps can be used by rescuers to orient themselves amongst the rubble, identify which roads to take, which bridges to avoid in case of collapse. The data will help guide them to destroyed buildings in remote areas, where help is hard to get.
Along with the Charter, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service (CEMS) has also been activated. The service, which has a cooperation agreement for sharing data and collaborating with the Charter, also uses observations from multiple satellites to provide on-demand mapping.
In this case, damage grading maps from the service show the geographic extent of damaged areas. The service used high-resolution optical images, including those from Pleiades over 20 areas of interest covering an area of 664 sq km.
Philippe Bally, ESA representative of the International Charter, commented, “In order to support the assessment of the impact of the earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria, we require imagery with the highest possible spatial resolution over many areas of interest. Tasking Earth observation missions was challenging because of the cloud coverage over the region on the hours and days following the activation.”
Simonetta Cheli, Director of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA, commented, “Space is very relevant in cases of natural disasters such as the Türkiye–Syria earthquakes. It is our job when a natural disaster or a humanitarian crisis occurs to coordinate via the International Charter with partner agencies and with the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Services. We are closely following efforts to provide timely Earth observation data to disaster relief teams on the ground.”