Satellites study landslides from space

Nov. 27, 2012 at 7:50 PM
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GREENBELT, Md., Nov. 27 (UPI) -- NASA says a study of data from one of its Earth observation satellites shows the year 2010 was a particularly bad year for landslides around the world.

The study compared rain data from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission to landslides in eastern China, Central America and the Himalayas region -- three areas where rainfall-triggered landslides are frequent and destructive hazards to the local populations -- the space agency said Tuesday.

Researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., are attempting to catalog worldwide rainfall-triggered landslides, one of the world's lesser known but often catastrophic natural hazards.

Locating them is a step toward the goal of being able, one day, to predict and warn, the scientists said.

"For other hazards like hurricanes, there's a clearly defined season," NASA scientist Dalia Kirschbaum said. "From satellite data and observations we know that hurricane season in the Atlantic spans from June 1 to Nov. 30.

"But we don't have that type of record for landslides around the world, and we want to know when and where to expect them in different regions."

The advantage of using satellites to gather rainfall data compared to ground data such as that from rain gauges is that satellites can measure rainfall in the same, consistent way over large regions, researchers said.

This provides a broader perspective on rainfall data that could lead to detecting the kinds of rainfall signatures likely to produce destructive landslides, NASA said.

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