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Posted on June 6th, 2017

Our Changing Landscape – The Korean Demilitarized Zone

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 10 billion square kilometers of data. For June’s Our Changing Landscape we stay on the Korean Peninsula, traveling south from Wonsan, a coastal ‘tourist destination,’ with a look at the ever-tense Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

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 Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula on June 12, 2009, October 16, 2012, May 26, 2015 and March 14, 2017. And while it would be interesting to see some rapid changes happening here, as you will find out, not much has changed; a few new buildings in the towns along the DMZ but for the most part it looks to be a stalemate which makes sense. If anything, the build up here is likely below ground which these optical images would never show. (Images Courtesy: Planet @ 2017)

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a 4 kilometer (~ 2.5 miles) wide, 250 kilometers (155 miles) long section of land that divides the Korean Peninsula into North and South Korea. Created on July 27, 1953 as part of the Armistice Agreement between the warring sides, the DMZ is a military-free zone surrounded by one of the largest build-ups of weapons in the world. The DMZ is split into two halves by the Military Demarcation Line which was formed by both militaries retreating 2000-meters from their last 1953 positions. In fact, the 250-kilometer border is marked by 1,292 identical signs which are now rusted relics of the end of the Korean War.

In its near 70 years of existence, the DMZ has done exactly what its goal was, to keep relative peace between the separated Koreas. However that is not to say that the history of the DMZ is without incident. For example, the four tunnels apparently built by North Korea below the DMZ – large enough to handle 30,000 soldiers per hour in some cases – which were discovered in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1989. There have also been incidents along the DMZ where soldiers have fired on each other, a tourist has been killed and even rather serious naval clashes.

Since 2016 and especially since the start of the Trump administration, North Korea has flexed its military muscles on multiple occasions with nuclear and ballistic missile tests. There is also some evidence of a build up along the DMZ by both South Korea and North Korea. Will this military buildup along the DMZ be evident in recent 5-meter RapidEye images? It’s time to turn to the archive to answer this question!
[history why its there, Dora Observatory] [recent events close by]

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