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Posted on June 7th, 2016

Our Changing Landscape – Ilısu Dam

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 8 billion square kilometers of data. For our June edition of Our Changing Landscape, we shift our focus from recently expanded airports back to the construction of dams with a look at Ilısu Dam in Turkey.

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.

The Construction of Ilısu Dam, Turkey

As we have done in the past, it is our intent to offer background on the construction of Ilısu Dam in Turkey as well as present both sides of the argument as this is one controversial infrastructure project – however, we will not come down on side of the argument or the other. In 1954, the Turkish government turned its attention to the Tigris River as a means of hydroelectric power for the country’s growing needs. Then in 1982, a feasibility study that stretched over two years recommended the construction of Ilısu Dam in the south-eastern part of the nation along the Tigris River, just about 40-kilometers (km) from the border with Syria or about 65-km upstream.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over Ilısu Dam, Turkey on August 2, 2009, September 6, 2011, August 21, 2012, August 13, 2014 and April 18, 2016. In the eight years spanned in these five images, you can see significant progress on the dam, particularly since 2014. You can also see that water levels in the Tigris River here started to increase in the April 2016 image. To give you a sense of scale, the new pile of debris in the 2016 image measures about 1,720 meters (or a bit over a mile)! (Images Courtesy: BlackBridge)

Construction on Ilısu Dam, a rock-filled structure with a concrete face, began in 2006 after it was scheduled to start in 1999 but the government lost funding among many other hurdles. It is expected to be 135-meters (m) high and 1,820-m long when completed in 2016 by the Swiss consortium of Sulzer Hydro and ABB Power Generation. The dam will have a capacity of 10.4 billion cubic meters with active storage using about 72% of this capacity; and the reservoir created by the dam is expected to have a surface area of about 313 square kilometers. When put online, Ilısu Dam will produce 3,800 GWh of power per year, just a small portion of the 228 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity generated by Turkey in 2012. According to the Turkish government, Ilısu Dam will only be used for the generation of power so no water will be extracted for irrigating local agricultural fields. When completed, the project is expected to cost a whopping $1.52 billion.

While the government claims that Ilısu Dam is an important part of the economic development of the nation, this project is one of the most controversial in the entire world. Here is a brief summary of the major arguments against Ilısu Dam with links so you can read more about each item:

There are always two sides to a story so here is how the Turkish government responds to these claims. Despite the controversy surrounding Ilısu Dam and threats from PKK, the Turkish government is pushing hard to complete the project in 2016. As such, it is time to turn our attention to the 5-meter RapidEye imagery record to see how this construction project has progressed through time and where its completion currently stands.

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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