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Posted on August 3rd, 2021

Our Changing Landscape – Chemical Fire in Illinois

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with a time series of medium-resolution PlanetScope satellite imagery. The PlanetScope constellation dates back to 2016 and collects hundreds of millions of square kilometers of 4, 5 and 8-band 3-meter imagery daily! Last month we check out a global hotspot in the South China Sea, and for the August 2021 edition of Our Changing Landscape we head to the United States to the site of a massive chemical fire in Rockton, Illinois.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 3-meter natural color PlanetScope imagery collected over the Chemtool production facility in Rockton, IL on June 13, 14, 15 and 16, 2021. This animation really shows our readers the depth of the PlanetScope archive as we feature images from four days in a row over the fire location including one imaged the day before the fire started; and then an impressive two datasets from the day of the fire, with active flames seen in both of the images from 14th. Smoke is still rising from the site of the chemical fire and explosion in the image from June 15th; and then by June 16th, it is apparent that the Chemtool facility has been all but completely destroyed by the incident. (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2021)

The PlanetScope Microsat Constellation

PlanetScope is a constellation of more than 150 microsats referred to individually as Doves. Each Dove is able to collect up to 20,000 square kilometers (sq km) per day of 3-meter (m) 4-band multispectral (i.e. blue, green, red and near-infrared [NIR]) imagery; and newly launched SuperDoves collect 8-band multispectral adding in valuable red-edge spectral data. Across the constellation, PlanetScope is archiving more than 200 million sq km of medium-resolution imagery a day, making it the go to source for daily imagery over most locations. This massive archive dates back to 2016, offering the most complete and continuous record of spatial data on the planet since the start of the constellation’s ongoing launch schedule. Collecting 3-meter multispectral imagery is the equivalent of ‘high-resolution’ multispectral data imaged by a 75-centimer (cm) satellite (as this satellite would feature 75-cm panchromatic and 3-m multispectral), making PlanetScope an extremely competitively priced option at just $1.80 per sq km. With well registered images and nearly daily collections of most locations, PlanetScope is the ideal imagery source for this current-events focused series, Our Changing Landscape.

Chemical Fire at the Chemtool Production Facility in Rockton, Illinois

Rockton is small town of about 8,000 residents in north-central Illinois, located in the Rockford Metropolitan Statistical Area. The downtown of Rockton is nestled along the north-shore of a bend in the Rock River. According to data here, its local economy is predominantly manufacturing, which would make sense given its proximity to a water source and its access to shipping.

Chemtool Incorporated,a manufacturer of greases and other functional fluids, has been headquartered in Rockton since 1963. Chemtool has two locations in Rockton, one is their corporate office and the other is a production facility which is located less than a quarter mile (or about a quarter kilometer) from the Rock River. On June 14, 2021 at approximately 10:46AM local time, an explosion rocked the production facility, sending a fireball into the sky with an accompanying sound equivalent a decent-sized firework according to local residents. The fire department ordered a mandatory evacuation within a one-mile radius of the plant which included some 150 or so homes. Given its proximity to the Rock River, there were obvious environmental concerns with the caustic nature of the liquids produced here; but thankfully, as of a few weeks later, it was believed that the 84 fire departments who helped respond to the accident were able to prevent any contamination. Equally thankfully is that all of the ~70 employees working at the plant on the 14th were able to escape the accident – which apparently was started by a scissor lift – without injury. Now it’s time to turn to the 3-meter PlanetScope imagery record to see what devastation was left behind by the Chemtool explosion.

If you would like to find out more about using 3-meter PlanetScope imagery for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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