Posted on April 4th, 2017

Our Changing Landscape – Rason Economic and Trade Zone, 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 8 billion square kilometers of data. In March’s Our Changing Landscape we focused on a rapidly growing city in China, and in April we move to one of China’s mysterious neighbors, North Korea, with a look at the growth of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

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 Growth of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone, North Korea

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over the Rason Economic and Trade Zone on May 20, 2009, August 13, 2012, August 2, 2014 and August 22, 2016. In these images, you can definitely see the growth of the town in the center of each date; but the growth is not nearly as rapid as you saw last month in Shiyan, China. While we did not detect any new mega-structures like new roads, ports or railways, you can see new well organized structures that could be used for manufacturing or storage – though this is only an educated guess on their current use made by Apollo Mapping. (Images Courtesy: Planet @ 2017)

North Korea is one of the world’s most despotic nations and is also one of the most mysterious nations given the strict suppression Chairman Kim Jong-un imposes on his people and travelers here. As such, North Korea is an ideal location for Our Changing Landscape series. Since at least the 1990s, North Korea has established free trade zones, now referred to as Special Economic Zones (SEZ), that are meant to spur economic growth in the nation. The Rason Economic and Trade Zone is the oldest SEZ in North Korea, established in the 1990s as well.

Rason is almost as far away from the capital Pyongyang as one can get in North Korea. Located in the northeast corner of the nation, Rason shares a common border, the Tumen River, with both China and Russia – making this region an obvious choice for the North Korean experiment in limited capitalism. According to local officials, there are more than $500 million in outside investments in the SEZ with about 80% of the foreign enterprises owned by the Chinese. It is obvious then that Rason and the other SEZs in North Korea would be a major point of American contention with China given the strict international trade embargoes that are in place. China is not the only country investing in Rason as firms from Russia, Thailand, Japan, Dominica and Italy have also opened offices here.

While details of activities in North Korea are scant, there are some indications that Rason is extremely important to the economic health of the nation. For example, there are two ports in the SEZ, Sonbon which moves about 3 million tons of oil and other goods a year; and then Ungsang which moves 500,000 tons of timber a year. In 2014, a railway that connects Khassan, Russia with Rason commenced operations and it reportedly moves some 1 million tons of coal a year. Other sites suggest that there is a large international bank in Rason, the Rason Golden Triangle Bank, and even a casino that is frequented by Chinese tourists. Without further ado, it is time to turn to the 5-meter RapidEye archive to see how development has progressed (or hasn’t) in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

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 sales@apollomapping.com or (303) 993-3863.

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