Posted on March 3rd, 2020

Our Changing Landscape – Fire Ravages Kangaroo Island, Australia

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 is collecting hundreds of millions of square kilometers of 4-band 3-meter imagery daily! In our February edition of Our Changing Landscape we were in northern Africa with a look at a year of protests, and for March we travel south to the tragic 2019-2020 Australian fires and specifically to Kangaroo Island.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 3-meter natural color PlanetScope imagery collected over the western side of Kangaroo Island on December 28, 2019, January 6, 2020 and then January 14, 2020. In these images you can see that damage caused by these fires was cataclysmic – and in fact you can see a fire that is actively sweeping through Ravine Des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area in the January 6th image. In the January 14th image, admittedly the colors are a bit off and the brightness is damped but even this quality took significant manipulation in Photoshop given the extremely thick fire haze on this day. But even with less than ideal colors and clarity, you can see that most of the trees here have been burnt with just a few tree-islands escaping the fires. We can’t even imagine the number of plants and animals lost in these blazes – truly devastating. (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2020)

The PlanetScope Microsat Constellation

PlanetScope is a constellations 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. 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.

The Tragic 2019-2020 Australian Fires – A Focus on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is located in southern Australia about 110 kilometers (km; 70 miles, mi) south-west of Adelaide across the Gulf St Vincent. The island is some 155 km (96 mi) long and up to 55 km (34 mi) wide with pristine beaches and one-third of its lands reserved as national parks. As the name might suggest, the island is home to a subspecies of the Western Grey Kangaroo, the Kangaroo Island Kangaroo, as well as koala bears, wallabies and 46 species of endemic flora. Kangaroo Island has a Mediterranean climate characterized by warm, dry summers; making for a pattern of regular bushfires that can be significant in terms of duration and ecological impact – for example in 2007.

The Australian fires that have mortified the world, killed a billion or more animals and at least 33 humans and burned more than 1.5 million sq km (580,000 sq mi) started in September 2019 after a multi-year drought built up a significant fuel load in rural wilderness areas. The fires ravaged some 14 million acres of land, much of it in New South Wales on the south-eastern corner of Australia, and continued until very recently. For the remainder of this article, we pivot our attention to the fires on Kangaroo Island which appear to have started on December 20, 2019. Major fires swept across the island on January 4th (some stories report the date as the 3rd) as well as January 9th, scorching some 48% of the land mass (more than 215,000 hectares, or 531,000 acres). The fast moving fires left behind a swath of destruction, particular for wildlife, that has been described as catastrophic, as in this 60-hour recount of a visit to Kangaroo Island during and just after the tragedy. On that depressing note, we turn our attention to the visual record of 3-meter PlanetScope imagery collected in December and January over the Ravine Des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area on the western side of Kangaroo Island which was particularly hard hit by the January fires.

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

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