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Posted on October 3rd, 2017

Our Changing Landscape – Hamhung, North Korea

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 13 billion square kilometers of data. In August, we checked out the reemergence of an Irish island, and September, after a few months out of the country, we head back to North Korea with a look at an industrial city, Hamhung.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over Hamhung, North Korea on August 9, 2009 and August 26, 2017. In these two images spaced about 8 years apart, you will see that not much has changed. From what we could see, the easiest way to spot the new buildings are the colored roofs – many of them either red or blue. Do you see some significant changes we missed? (Images Courtesy: Planet @ 2017)

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers daily revisits to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a starting cost of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

Hamhung, North Korea

Hamhung is a large North Korean city situated in the central part of the nation along its eastern shore on the Sea of Japan. By most accounts, Hamhung has a population in the mid-600,000s to the mid-700,000s and is the second largest in the shrouded communist nation. Once a local administrative and commercial hub of the Korean Chosŏn dynasty, the city suffered significant damage during the Korean War and was rebuilt largely by Communist partners around the world (for a more detailed handling of the history of the city, check this resource). Today, Hamhung is the capital of the South Hamgyŏng do province and is one of North Korea’s industrial powerhouses with a focus on textiles and shipping.

As with most facts and news about North Korea, details about Hamhung are hard to find. It does appear that Hamhung has a storied past of human atrocities including a concentration camp, mass graves surrounding the cities from famine, and a chemical weapon factory. According to a report by the US Korea Institute, there has been no growth in Hamhung’s markets from 2008 to 2013; but the city is still an active industrial region for the nation according to this Christian Science Monitor report, albeit stuck in a time gone by. Apparently opened for tourism in 2010, Hamhung has been touted by the North Korean government as a beach resort, however these visitors from the Daily Mail would disagree. Tourists headed to Hamhung might be interested to hear that an unexploded bomb was found on the outskirts of the town in late July. Here is a YouTube video of the streets of Hamhung – the lack of cars says a lot about the economic conditions in North Korea. Now, it is time to turn to the 5-meter RapidEye archive to see how Hamhung has (or has not) changed since 2009.

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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