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Posted on January 5th, 2021

Our Changing Landscape – Hurricane Iota

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 four and five-band 3-meter imagery daily! Last month we checked out the changing of Fall colors in upstate New York, and for the January edition of Our Changing Landscape we turn our attention to the southern hemisphere and the destruction left behind by Hurricane Iota.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 3-meter natural color PlanetScope imagery collected over the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina on October 17 and November 18 and 19, 2020. In this animation, you can see a (cloudy, sorry!) pre-Hurricane Iota image collected on October 17th where everything looks as you might expect on this mostly forested collection of islands. The image from November 18th is the first low-cloud image collected by PlanetScope here and the devastation is hard to even imagine. The vast majority of the trees were scraped off the islands and the destruction to infrastructure is apparent on the airport’s runway in the November 19th image (check the east side of the island). (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2021).
Animation might not work due to file size, download the GIF here if so.

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 5-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.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Iota on the Islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina

The tiny islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina are located 150 miles (~235 kilometers) off the eastern coast of Nicaragua in the Atlantic Ocean, but are actually governed by Colombia which is some 425 miles (~700 kilometers) to the south-east. Providencia is the largest of the two remote islands, only covering 6.5 square miles (17 square kilometers); with about 5,000 combined residents between them (according to a 2005 census). Originally inhabited by an indigenous tribe, the Miskito, it was first colonized by the British in 1629; and then controlled by the Spanish, until Nicaragua and Colombia fought over the islands – finally reaching a truce in 1928 whereby Colombia gained control. Before Hurricane Iota, Providencia and Santa Catalina had a robust tourism industry, with tourists who came for the islands’ natural beauty as well as the UNESCO Seaflower Biosphere Reserve marine park.

2020 has been a recording breaking year for major storm systems in the Atlantic with 30 named so far – Iota being the last at the time this article was drafted. Of the 30 storms, 13 formed into hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour) and of these 6 reached Category 3 with sustained winds of 111 milers per hour (179 kilometers per hour). Hurricane Iota was named on November 13th after forming in the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Colombian coast. It moved nearly directly west from there, reaching Category 5 with maximum sustained winds of 161 miles per hour (259 kilometers per hour). On November 16th, Iota slammed into the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina – the strongest hurricane to ever hit Colombia. Initial estimates suggest a staggering 98% of Providencia’s infrastructure had been destroyed by the hurricane – it’s hard to even imagine the toll that will take on the human, animal and plant populations there. According to Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez, it will take until at least 2022 to rebuild the islands. Now it is time to turn to the 3-meter PlanetScope archive to try and get a sense of the apocalyptic destruction let behind by Hurricane Iota. Oh, and dear 2020, we cannot wait to see you leave!!!

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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