Posted on May 4th, 2021

Our Changing Landscape – The Suez Canal

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 focused on the ice storm that crippled Texas and much of the South during February, and for this May edition of Our Changing Landscape we head to the Middle East with a look at the Suez Canal and the events that transpired there in late March.


Click on the image above to see an animation of 3-meter natural color PlanetScope imagery collected over the Gulf of Suez on March 20, 25, 26 and 29, 2021. In the March 20th image you can see what a ‘normal’ day look like at the start of the Suez Canal’s southern end, whereby there are a handful of ships waiting to enter and perhaps some headed out of it and traveling south. By our quick count, there are 10 or fewer ships lined up here (depending on the size ship you count). As you move through the images to the 29th, when the Ever Given was finally freed, you see a steady built up of ships with more than 20 waiting in the last image. (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 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 Ever Given Blocks the Suez Canal

Built over an 11-year period from 1859 to 1869, the Suez Canal is not only one of the modern miracles of human engineering, it is also one of the world’s most important economic choke points. Connecting the Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean, the Suez Canal cuts some 5,500 miles (8,900 kilometers), or 8 to 10 days of shipping time, off the voyage from European ports to those in Asia and beyond. In any given day, some 12% of global trade, one million barrels of oil and about 8% of the world’s total natural gas shipments move through the 120.1-mile (193.3-kilometer) canal. To put that in different terms, it is estimated that some $6 to $10 billion of trade moves through the Suez Canal each week, making it one of the most important stretches of land on our planet.

So as you can imagine, when the Taiwanese container vessel, the MV Ever Given, ran aground blocking the Suez Canal on March 23rd, the entire world was on notice. The 1,312-foot (400-meter) long vessel is one of the world’s largest ships, with the ability to carry some 20,000 shipping containers – though its payload was about 18,300 containers when it blocked the canal – and weighing in at a hard to imagine 440,924,524 pounds (200,000 tonnes). Initial estimates suggested it could take weeks to move the 530,000 to 706,000 cubic feet (15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters) of sand required to free the Ever Given, though thankfully the effort only lasted six days as it was freed at about 5:42AM local time on March 29th. While six days might seem like a short time, it was enough to delay more than 400 ships who had to wait in the entry of the Suez Canal or find alternative shipping routes (which obviously none really exist), and to cause untold cascading delays across the entire shipping industry. It is expected that the Suez Canal Authority who manages and maintains the canal will seek at least $1 billion in economic compensation from the owners of the Ever Given, making that one expensive error on the part of the ship’s captain and crew! Now it is time to turn to the 3-meter PlanetScope archive to get a sense of the delay caused by the Ever Given in the Gulf of Suez, which is the most northern part of the Red Sea and the entryway to the canal’s southern terminus.

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 [email protected] or (303) 993-3863.

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