Around noon local time on June 3rd, Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire), one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, violently erupted sending burning rock, ash and dust at high speeds towards populated areas. Unfortunately, many people were trapped in the ensuing pyroclastic flow and it is estimated that over 100 have already perished.
Due to the height of Fuego (12,346 feet or 3,763 meters) and the hilly topography in the surrounding area, the debris spread into the low-lying valleys, which includes the towns of El Rodeo and San Miguel Los Lotes. These populated areas tend to be situated close to active volcanoes because of the fertile soils, which can be beneficial for agricultural needs. During this eruption, the ash plume ejected from Fuego is estimated to have reached over six miles (10 kilometers) into the atmosphere and was visible by NASA satellites.
While it may be weeks or even months before the true toll of this disaster is calculated, PlanetWatchers was able to map the paths of the lava flows and the surrounding area affected by heavy ash load.
Monitoring of lava flow and accumulated debris resulting from volcanic eruptions is a hard task. The smoke plum ejected up to a high altitude from the volcano together with the presence of a thick cloud cover resulting from the strong convection above the flaming lava makes it very difficult to get timely overhead imagery.
PlanetWatchers utilized the European Sentinel1 radar satellite for monitoring the eruption surroundings, see figure 1. Radar has the ability to see through the clouds and smoke and provide timely information and is particularly suitable for measuring changes along time.
Figure 1. Red marks the areas of the Lava flows following the eruption on June 3rd. The black outlines presenting an area of about 38,000 acres that was affected by high loads of ash. The analysis relied on an image from June 6th of the European Space Agency synthetic aperture radar satellite Sentinel1. The image in the background is a composite of VH,VV,VH-VV polarizations.
We achieved this analysis by using our in-house algorithms that are capable of extracting meaningful information from a variety of satellite sensors operating in different spectral regions. These artificial intelligence algorithms, can ingest large amounts of data and improve throughout the process by applying advanced machine learning techniques. Our sets of algorithms and expertise has far-reaching applications like monitoring illegal logging activities or tracking the growth of agricultural fields.
DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company, released to the public pre and post event high resolution optical images through its Open Data Program, figure 2 below shows an overlay of our analysis of the lava flow path (based Sentinel1 radar image) on top of Digitalglobe’s post event optical image.
Figure 2. PlanetWatchers analysis of the lava path from June 6th in yellow, overlaid on top of Digitalglobe’s high resolution optical image from the same date shows the extent of damage caused to the community of San Miguel Los Lotes . The ability to analyze and extract meaningful and timely information from different data sources is extremely important for emergency response and aid efforts.
At the time of publication, PlanetWatchers was unable to find detailed maps of the affected area which is why we felt it was imperative to perform this analysis and make it available to the public to aid anyone who wants to help with this disaster. This analysis and associated map layers available in GIS ready formats can be accessed using this link.
GIS professionals are welcome to use the shapefile format files available in both RAR and ZIP containers, non-professionals can use the KMZ format by simply dragging it into Google Earth.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this tragic event. We will continue to monitor this area and share our findings. We hope this information provides valuable insights and that everyone in the area remains safe.