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Volume 32, Issue 3

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Tuesday, 20 November 2007 00:30

High-Resolution Satellites Offer Unprecedented Views

Written by  Chuck Herring

The remoteness and economic deficiencies of many corners of the world have historically resulted in a lack of good maps. One side effect of having poor maps is a certain slowness to respond to natural disasters: without accurate views of local vegetation, road networks and medical facilities, relief workers have difficulty locating and navigating disaster-impacted areas, or even determining the extent of damage. When an event such as the Indian Ocean tsunami wipes out entire communities, shattering communications lines and obliterating roads, it completely cuts off access by the rest of the world – a type of destruction that no line-drawn maps could ever illustrate. After the tsunami, high-resolution satellite imagery became a remarkable tool for helping the world understand the devastation that had occurred. At 60-centimeter resolution, these images depict enough detail to count individual trees and buildings. Images were collected of the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec. 26, slightly