Washington, June 15 : A set of NASA data products can describe the location of the exposed populations in the aftermath of a disaster, with prominent examples being the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China's Sichuan Province, where the technology was used.
When these two catastrophic natural disasters struck within days of each other in May 2008, disaster relief, humanitarian aid, and health officials, as well as members of the news media tapped into a unique set of NASA data products describing the location of the exposed populations.
What arose was a timely example of how NASA data comes to the aid of officials when such disasters occur.
"The gridded population product we produce helps officials understand the density of the population in and around a disaster area," said Robert Chen, manager of NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC).
"The data set shows where people actually live in relationship to hazardous events," he added.
Members of the news media use the data and associated maps to report on possible casualties and property destruction.
"When a major disaster hits, people want to know how many people were exposed to the disaster, in addition to how many were killed," said Chen. "For example, CNN used our map of population density in Burma to help explain how the unusual path of cyclone Nargis affected the low-lying, densely populated delta," he added.
Using the SEDAC data, media were able to report that 25 percent of Burma's 57 million people resided in coastal areas overpowered by the cyclone. They also projected that a million people would likely face homelessness, a number calculated by the United Nations (UN) also by using data made available by SEDAC.
SEDAC, a part of NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System, collects, stores, processes and distributes population, land use, and socioeconomic data.
A significant mission of NASA's Earth-observing satellite program is to enable scientists and other users to conduct analyses and make decisions based on the resulting data.
SEDAC advances this mission by developing and operating practical applications that merge social science and Earth science data to improve knowledge of how humans interact with Earth's environment.
According to Marc Levy, SEDAC's lead project scientist, "Although our information is most useful for groups needing to know how many people were in the exposure zone where a disaster occurred, it also helps when looking downstream at secondary impacts like disease, homelessness, hunger, and even conflict."