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Nepal's Earthquake was So Intense it Changed Both Land and Air, Says NASA

May 04, 2015 04:40 PM EDT
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It's been more than a week since the developing world of Nepal was struck by a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Aid and recovery efforts are now in full swing, and NASA, of all groups, seems to be one of the first to provide information that's uniquely valuable to responders.

"NASA and its partners are gathering the best available science and information on the April 25, 2015, magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, referred to as the Gorkha earthquake, to assist in relief and humanitarian operations," the agency announced in a statement.

Organizations like the US Geological Survey (USGS), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, and even the Red Cross have already started to make effective use of these resources.

One of the technologies that will provide some of the most immediate assistance is a remote-sensing radar approach called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response).

According to NASA, FINDER "can locate individuals buried as deep as 30 feet (9.1 meters) in crushed materials, hidden behind 20 feet (6 meters) of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet (30.5 meters) in open spaces."

As things stand, there have been more than 7,000 officially confirmed deaths, according to first responders and the Nepalese government - largely due to the collapse of poorly reinforced buildings. However, Nature World News previously reported how many experts believe that Nepal was "ripe for disaster" when the earthquake struck, and as many as 57,700 people may have died as a result of the quake. Quickly finding those who are trapped, but still alive beneath the country's rubble will be invaluable in ensuring that the final count never reaches that morbid projection.

FINDER was deployed to Nepal late last week. (Scroll to read on...)

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Nepal, Under the Radar a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a

However, aid and assistance isn't just about making sure as many people as possible survive this disaster. It's also about ensuring that such widespread destruction never happens again.

That's why NASA and its partners have turned their eyes to the sky, noting that the Gorkha earthquake was so intense that it quite literally shook up the atmosphere above Nepal, disrupting the distribution of electrons in the ionosphere between 37 miles (60 kilometers) and 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) above Earth's surface. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : NASA/JPL/Ionosphere Natural Hazards Team) The disturbance measurements, known as vertical total electron content (VTEC) (depicted in blue in the upper panel), have been filtered using processing software developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to show wave-like disturbances (circled in red) in the distribution of electrons in the ionosphere. The waves have periods of between two and eight minutes in length. The disturbance measurements following the earthquake rupture are circled in black in the lower panel. The colors represent the relative strengths of the earthquake-induced ionospheric disturbances as captured by the GPS signals, with red being high and blue being low.

So what's the value in knowing this? According to NASA's Tony Greicius, scientists study ionosphere-based measurements caused by natural hazards to better understand the signatures of these events.

"The disturbances caused by earthquakes help scientists develop new first-principle-based wave propagation models," he explained. "These models may become part of future early warning systems for tsunamis and other difficult-to-detect natural hazards."

Nepal, Forever Changed a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a

What's more, the space agency and its partners are also compiling satellite data to quickly churn out new and updated topographical maps of the region. This can reveal not only the safest and easiest routes for transporting supplies or reaching survivors, but also which parts of the country are vulnerable to future natural disasters, such as avalanches (primarily near Mount Everest camps), mudslides, or even additional quakes.

It's also provided some absolutely mind-blowing imagery, showing just how much damage the quake really caused. For instance, the 25-by-31 mile (40-by-50 kilometer) Damage Proxy Map (DPM - pictured below), which covers the region around Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu, shows that very few parts of the region remained untouched. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Google Earth) Areas with little to no destruction boast transparent pixels. Increased opacity of the radar image pixels (representing ~ 100 ft across) reflects damage, with areas in red reflecting the heaviest damage to cities and towns. The color variations from yellow to red indicate increasingly more significant ground surface change.

A larger-scale assessment of permanent surface movement caused almost entirely by the earthquake between April 17 and April 29, as provided in-part by the European Space Agency (ESA), shows that the land around Kathmandu has moved upward by more than 40 inches (1 meter) since the quake began. Rippling changes occurred around the city's immediate borders, with even the edges of the region being quite obviously affected.

And what's most amazing is that this is but a fraction of the immediate shift. Great portions of the map without vibrant color contours are those that were too shrouded in snow or vegetation for satellite imagery to get a good look at. Even so, the tie-dye-like ripples that affected the region are very recognizable. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Google Earth) Surface displacements are seen as color contours, or "fringes," where each color cycle represents 8 inches (20 centimeters) of surface motion.

"Scientists use these maps to build detailed models of the fault and associated land movements to better understand the impact on future earthquake activity," Greicius added in a recent release.

So What Can You Do to Help? a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a

As things stand, the safest bet is to donate money - not food, or clothes or supplies. That's because right now responders are still trying to figure out who needs what and how much. Money, for obvious reasons, if far more flexible in that regard.

However, be careful who you send that money to. The Red Cross and Save the Children, two of the first organizations on the scene, are assuredly safe bets, and provide options for a donor to remain anonymous.

Additionally, last week the United Nations announced a $415 million flash appeal to help get "life-saving assistance and protection" to the over eight million people affected by this tragedy - an appeal that can be funded by a concerted private and international effort.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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