Science & Environment

UK floods prompt space charter activation

Sussex by satellite
Image caption The UK-DMC2 satellite images the flooding on the rivers Arun and Adur in Sussex

Serious flooding in parts of the UK has prompted the government to activate the global charter on space and natural disasters.

It means agencies will get immediate access to satellite imagery to help them respond to the problems caused by the stormy weather of recent weeks.

It is rare for Britain to activate the charter on its own behalf.

But this is the second time in five weeks that it has made a request for satellite imagery.

A dozen spacecraft have now been tasked with acquiring pictures of various locations in the UK at a range of resolutions and in a spread of wavelengths, from optical all the way through to microwave radar.

UK coastlines have been battered in the storms, and thousands of properties have been flooded as a result of inundations and heavy rains. The Thames barrier in London has also been raised nine times in the past six days to protect the capital's property.

Many of the world's space agencies are signatories to the International Charter [on] Space and Major Disasters.

Initiated back in 2000 by Esa, and the French (Cnes) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies, it provides access now to tens of satellites in space, ensuring that some assets are always in just the right orbit at just the right time to capture vital pictures.

The UK Space Agency is a key player in the charter, too. It works with the Disaster Monitoring Constellation International Imaging (DMCii) company based in Guildford, Surrey.

DMCii currently manages four imaging satellites in its own network, including the UK-DMC2 platform which carries a multi-spectral camera with a resolution of 22m. It provided the before-and-after flooding images of Sussex featured on this page. DMCii also acts as the operations control centre for the charter on a rotational basis, although not this week.

The company's Adina Gillespie is the executive secretary for the UK in the charter. She told BBC News: "The Environment Agency will use the satellite imagery in a variety of ways.

"It will likely be sent out to their local area teams so they can see the extent of the flooding. The information can also be combined with other geo data, such as infrastructure and community information, to identify those areas at risk.

"In the last activation, some of the post-event analysis was then used in longer term modelling. And, of course, the information is also given to Cobra (the government's emergency committee)."

Image caption In calmer times: The UK-DMC2 satellite's normal view of Sussex and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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