Related activities

Disaster warning and mitigation

Each year natural disasters such tsunamis, tropical cyclones and flooding result in considerable damage to life and property. Economic losses due to disasters worldwide have surpassed $100 billion USD every year since 2010. In addition, human caused marine and coastal disasters including oil spills and chemical accidents are widespread and, depending on the magnitude and location, can be devastating environmental disasters.

Earth observations, including ground and satellite based platforms, deliver data and information required to prepare, forecast, mitigate and recover from disasters. In many situations, including tsunamis and storm surge events, Earth observations are required to provide warnings to coastal populations. Oil and chemical spills can also be identified and tracked using Earth observations, allowing managers to informed mitigation decisions regarding these environmental disasters.

Tsunami warnings

A tsunami is a series of waves triggered by geological events such as earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions. While major tsunamis are relatively infrequent, when they do happen they can cause loss of life and considerable damage to coastal communities. In 2004, a major tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused more than 200,000 deaths and a 2011 tsunami in Japan caused nearly 16,000 deaths and damaged reactors of a Nuclear Power Plant resulting in radioactive contamination. These events and other past tsunamis highlight the importance of regular and sustained tsunami monitoring and warnings. Earth observations can provide data and information to allow for timely tsunami warnings can allow for evacuations and reduce loss of life. In addition, scientists can use Earth observation data to identify tsunami risk zones. Managers can use this information to take proper steps towards reducing risk to human life and property including preparing evacuation plans and installing warning systems.


The 2011 tsunami in Japan caused extensive local damage. The tsunami was caused by a powerful earthquake off of the Japanese coast. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning about 12 minutes after the earthquake.

Oil and chemical spills

Oil and chemical spills affect the marine environment as a result of poisonous chemical constituents and physical smothering.  Small oil and chemical spills happen almost daily and many go unreported. Large spills can cause a great extent of environmental damage. The causes of oil spills include oil tanker, drilling ring and storage facility accidents. Earth observation data and information collected from satellites, aircraft and in water measurements allow scientists to identify and track oil and chemical spills. This information allows managers to respond to and mitigate spills and improve oil and chemical spill policies.


The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused extensive damage to the local ecosystem. This image (courtesy of NASA) shows the oil slick off the Mississippi Delta on May 24, 2010.

Related GEO Societal Benefit Areas

Disaster Resilience