2011 Japan Quake and Tsunami – Before / After Images

Lots of satellite images of this disaster, including very high-resolution images from Geoeye and DigitalGlobe, are now becoming publicly available, showing from above the destructive power of the brutal one-two punch Japan has endured. Here’s a panoramic before/after view of what used to be the pretty little coastal neighborhood of Arahama in the city of Sendai, 80 miles due west from the quake’s epicenter and in the immediate path of the nearly 30-foot-high tsunami that swept the coast. The ocean is at lower right.

Many more before/after high-resolution satellite images can be seen by Google Earth users if you download this KML file from Google’s information-packed 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Crisis Response website. The KML includes low-resolution MODIS and radar images too, and reports from folks on the ground that are being collected using Ushahidi, the same tool we’ve deployed to track impacts in the Gulf during the BP oil spill.

Don’t use Google Earth? There are several sites featuring collections of high-resolution images:

And NASA has a page featuring their low-resolution daily MODIS images, which we’ve found useful for illustrating smoke plumes and ocean turbidity.

Let us know if you find more useful images. Natural disasters aren’t our main focus here at SkyTruth, but if we can see a way to help when they occur we’ll do what we can.

Sendai Tsunami – Turbidity and Smoke, March 13

Clear skies follow tragedy: this MODIS / Aqua satellite image to the left was taken on March 13, 2011 at about 12:55 pm local time in Japan. Click on it to see a larger version.

Striking bright aqua and turquoise patterns in the water reveal turbidity along much of the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan.

This turbidity is probably sand, churned up off the seafloor and scoured from beaches by the massive magnitude 8.9 earthquake and series of destructuive tsunmami waves that it generated; and mud and debris washed off lowlying coastal areas that were inundated by the tsunami.

Several plumes of smoke are visible as well, blowing eastward off the coast and out to sea. Three faint white plumes are visible between Miyako and Sendai. A fourth plume, dark brown, continues to emanate from the city of Sendai and may be caused in part by a fire at a major petrochemical facility.

Radiation leaks from crippled nuclear reactors along the coast are a serious concern at this time. If prevailing winds continue to blow from the west, releases of radioactive gases into the air should move offshore.

Smoke and Turbidity – Sendai, Japan

We’ve done our own processing on a NASA / MODIS satellite image showing a large smoke plume coming from the port city of Sendai. The image was taken from the Aqua satellite at 12:10 pm local time on March 12. The magnitude 8.9 quake struck at 2:46 pm local time on March 11, and tsunami waves crashed ashore along the northeastern coast of Japan shortly after.

The dark brown smoke plume stretches to the southeast, reaching at least 115 kilometers (73 miles) over the ocean.

Notice the bright turquoise patterns in the water; this is turbidity, quite possibly sand stirred up from the seafloor by the scouring action of the massive waves, and debris and sediment from flooded coastal areas dragged out to sea as the waves receded. Clouds and snow are bright white in this image, processed to enhance the smoke and turbidity:

Earthquake and Tsunami – Sendai, Japan

The Ring of Fire strikes again.

We’re starting to see satellite imagery of the damage caused by the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck northeastern Japan yesterday (this aerial video shows the waves approaching shore, and the terrifying destruction as they sweep through coastal towns). Some resources:

DigitalGlobe has a Flickr gallery of high-resolution images and produced a cursory analysis (PDF).

High-resolution satellite image showing shipping containers scattered by the tsunami in the port of Sendai, March 12, 2011. Image courtesy of DigitalGlobe.

The MODIS imaging team’s website at NASA now has a Japan Earthquake Project page. The low-resolution MODIS sytem captured an image at about noon local time on March 12, showing a large plume of smoke blowing out to sea from Sendai. Before-and-after images give a glimpse through the clouds of broad coastal flooding as of 10am local time yesterday.

Please submit a comment if you run across other useful sources of satellite imagery for this event.

Safer Offshore Drilling? Trust us.

With much fanfare, the federal government agency responsible for managing offshore drilling, BOEMRE, issued the first new permit for deepwater drilling since the BP / Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Sort of new, but not really: the permit allows Noble Energy to resume work on a well that was already being drilled when the spill brought activity to an abrupt halt. Nevertheless, BOEMRE made a big deal out of this. In this Houston chronicle op-ed, director Micheal Bromwich said:

“This permit was issued for one simple reason: The operator successfully demonstrated that it could drill its deep-water well safely and that it was capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur. We expect further deep-water permits to be approved in the coming weeks and months based on the same factors that led to the approval of this permit.”

In other words, this permit will become a template that all other companies will follow to get their drilling plans approved. Well then, this must be one heckuva permit application, filled with substantial details evaluating what a worst-case spill scenario for this specific well would be in the event of an uncontrolled blowout; detailing the capabilities, engineering design specifications, rigorous testing procedures and comprehensive test results for the vaunted new containment device that would be relied on to stop a blowout; and describing all the new cleanup equipment, techniques and procedures that are now standing by ready to immediately respond to the multimillion gallon oil spill that will happen even if the containment device works perfectly.

Here’s the public version we obtained of Noble Energy’s permit application. Notice anything missing?

This document doesn’t address any of the obvious safety issues listed above. Not a one. So how on earth did Mr. Bromwich reach the conclusion that Noble “successfully demonstrated that it could drill its deep-water well safely”?

It is possible that all of the necessary information is in the redacted version, not available to the public. But then I have to ask, 1) how can this application serve as a model for other companies who want to drill, if all of the important new safety information is withheld from view? and 2) how can the public have any degree of confidence that the safety of offshore drilling in America has been significantly improved, if we can’t see that information and evaluate it for ourselves?

Is this the new era of transparency and accountability that we were promised in the wake of the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion?

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.