Experimental uses of higher resolution satellite imagery

September 5, 2019Daniel Chang

The Allen Coral Atlas is a mapping tool that can be used to aid in developing marine protected areas or informing coral reef restoration projects using satellites from one of our partners Planet.  The maps are developed using imagery from the Dove satellites which have a 3.7 meter spatial resolution and capture the entire Earth’s landmass and coral reefs daily.  On the other hand, another fleet of satellites sourced by Planet are the SkySat satellites which have a stunning 0.7 meter spatial resolution and can be tasked to specific locations to provide additional information for coral reefs and inform conservation efforts.  When I began my internship with the Allen Coral Atlas this summer, I was tasked with the project of researching use cases for SkySat imagery within the Allen Coral Atlas’s coral conservation mission. 

In order to understand how this imagery would lead to impact for corals, I sent out a survey to the Coral List email community, a gold mine of about 10,000 of the world’s most active coral reef scientists and conservationists, inquiring user interest in high resolution imagery for coral reef efforts.  I was able to get responses and have conversations with some of these incredible folks to understand if SkySat imagery would provide positive impact for their work.  Thank you to all who completed the survey and those who spoke over the phone with me.

Through my conversations with both the coral community and the Atlas team, we decided that SkySat could provide a valuable asset to the Atlas by acting as an urgent response to scenarios that would require high resolution imagery for the purposes of identifying and monitoring changes to coral reefs.  Such scenarios are ship groundings over reefs, oil spills, or storm events that would require sub-meter resolution as well as on-demand location specific tasking in rather remote areas.

The imagery below depicts the Taka Atoll located in the Marshall Islands.  In January 2019, a massive oil tanker grounded on shore, leaking oil which has migrated towards nearby coral reefs.  To date, the ship has leaked up to 45,000 gallons of oil onto the reef.  Identifying and monitoring reefs in such remote areas that require intense resources to reach in person are difficult.  SkySat imagery has allowed for active, visual monitoring of the reef remotely, saving resources and providing information.  This case provides insight to the added benefit of SkySat imagery over the current Dove imagery that is used for the Atlas’s coral maps.

Taka Atoll ship grounding in the Marshall Islands with Dove satellite imagery in 3.7m resolution.

Taka Atoll ship grounding with SkySat .7m resolution imagery.

A similar incident occurred on Rennell Island when the MV Solomon Trader grounded. After a few weeks, the ship remained untouched and started to leak oil and bauxite into the water.  Over 80 days passed until media was able to release a story which incited action to remove the ship and stop contaminant spilling, totaling in 80 tons of oil spilled into the water from the grounded ship.

If SkySat had been tasked immediately, within the first few weeks before oil began to leak, the extent to which the oil and bauxite spilled could have been lessened and potentially avoided altogether. Such incidences are where SkySat imagery can act as an urgent response for faster action and stronger impact.

Our initial experiment showed us how many different options exist for using such high resolution imagery. Now that we have a better understanding of potential uses, we want to hear from you!

If you have an urgent response case please contact us! We will try our best to collect your area of interest. 

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