Satellite life-saving: how Copernicus helped rescue earthquake victims in Italy

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Satellite life-saving: how Copernicus helped rescue earthquake victims in…

On April, 6th, 2009, a magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck the Italian town of L’Aquila. 309 people died and hundreds were injured. Alarms went off and help arrived from all over Europe, including its satellites in the sky. Copernicus, the European Earth observation programme, helped save lives by means of its high-definition images.

You may have never heard of it, but Copernicus plays a key role when natural disasters strike, maybe near you. From Murcia in Spain to the Alps, via Paris and Oslo, Copernicus is the European ‘sentinel’ satellite network. Copernicus satellites are dedicated to observing what happens on the ground, especially in complex events such as earthquakes, fires or floods.

This was the case in L’Aquila. Just a few minutes after the quake, the satellite network was commanded to look closely into the affected area. All satellites in the network took high-resolution photographs and sent them down to Earth, where a complex system integrated the data into several final images, which were cross-checked to aerial photos taken the previous month. The result were the so-called emergency maps.

Thanks to this, troops on the ground got a wide picture of the devastation and direct aid was better coordinated. At the time, the European space sector made all efforts possible to help search teams navigate an area that had become unrecognizable, and save lives of victims under the rubble.