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Posted on May 2nd, 2017

Our Changing Landscape – Wonsan, 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 April’s Our Changing Landscape we looked at a special economic zone in North Korea, and for this month, we stay in the shrouded nation with a look at Wonsan, a coastal ‘tourist’ destination.

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.

Changes in a Coastal Resort Town – Wonsan, North Korea

Wonsan is a city of approximately 330,000 residents (as of 2000) located on the shores of the Sea of Japan in the province of Kangwon. Wonsan was opened as a port in 1880; and perhaps its biggest claim to fame in the USA would be its naval siege from March 1951 to July 1953, making it the longest such siege in modern American naval history. If you would like to find out more about the economy and history of Wonsan, here is an excellent summary article.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over Wonsan, North Korea on March 28, 2010, August 24, 2013, July 7, 2015 and February 26, 2017. And while the changes in the landscape here are not as noticeable as they were in the Rosan Special Economic Zone, outside of the huge airport that was built sometime between 2013 and 2015, you can still see new construction. Much of the new construction looks to be on the outskirts of town which is not surprising given how built up downtown Wonsan appears to be. (Images Courtesy: Planet @ 2017)

In the past few years, the North Korean government has tried to expand the nation’s tourism industry. And given Wonsan’s location and mild summer weather, it is one of the prime targets for expanded tourism. In 2014, it was estimated that the beach-front town was visited by approximately 6,000 tourists – not so bad for a country with very strict travel restrictions in place. According to the limited information we could find on the city, Wonsan is unique in that there is a beach area where Westerners are allowed as well as local North Koreans. In other parts of the country, it is nearly impossible to interact with North Korean citizens. You can find a number of excellent photographs of Wonsan here.

While Kim Jong-un has big plans for Wonsan, including an underwater hotel – that sounds interesting – it appears that in the past few years, the city has seen some limited expansion. According to North Korean Economy Watch, several markets were expanded sometime in (or close to) 2011. The Peterson Institute for International Economics cites several upgrades to Kalma Airport in 2015 – this airport was formerly a military base. Now it is time to turn to the 5-meter RapidEye record to see what changes might be visible in Wonsan since March 2010.

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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