NASA Disasters Program Responds to the 2020 Puerto Rico Earthquakes

January 15, 2020

NASA Disasters Program Responds to the 2020 Puerto Rico Earthquakes

Since December 28th, 2019 the island of Puerto Rico has been affected by a series of hundreds of small earthquakes, which culminated in a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake on the morning of Tuesday, January 7th (Source: https://www.usgs.gov/news/magnitude-64-earthquake-puerto-rico) This Tuesday earthquake caused widespread damage to infrastructure in a region that is still recovering from the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, leaving more than 2,000 people in shelters, nearly 1 million without power and hundreds of thousands without water.

The NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program has activated a “Tier 1” response to the earthquakes in Puerto Rico, which entails collecting information and coordinating with stakeholders and university partners. The program is participating in inter-agency calls with federal agencies leading the response effort including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, to provide NASA Earth-observing data in support of the response and recovery for this disaster.

Damage Proxy Maps show structures in the Ponce region on January 9th (above) and the Guanica region (below) on January 14th that were likely damaged by the earthquake in red and yellow. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ESA.

Damage Proxy Maps show structures in the Ponce region on January 9th (above) and the Guanica region (below) on January 14th that were likely damaged by the earthquake in red and yellow. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ESA.

Estimating Surface Displacement and Damage

Several data products in support of the earthquake have been published in geographic information system (GIS) format on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal, which allows the data to be more easily ingested and analyzed by other agencies and researchers. The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, have used Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data from several recent European Space Agency-operated (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite overpasses of the region to identify potential damage to structures and displacement of the surface. Damage Proxy Maps can be used to identify damaged structures (Image 1), and displacement maps (Image 2) show shifts in land surface due to the tectonic activity. Learn more about these products here: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=7573

Surface displacement map highlighting the change in elevation caused by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes between January 2 and 14th. This displacement map from January 14th estimates around 6 inches of surface lowering centered on the Guayanilla Bay in the sou

Surface displacement map highlighting the change in elevation caused by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes between January 2 and 14th. This displacement map from January 14th estimates around 6 inches of surface lowering centered on the Guayanilla Bay in the southern region of Puerto Rico. Gray area is ocean. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ESA

Mapping Landslides

Scientists have conducted preliminary mapping of landslides inferred to have occurred during the period of strong ground shaking related to the January 7th Mw6.4 earthquake. One hundred twenty landslides were mapped and are widely dispersed across the affected area, with the highest concentration in the southwestern portion of the island, nearest the epicenter. This data has been posted at the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal. The landslide team is coordinating directly with the USGS Landslide Hazard program to provide relevant information for site analyses and assessments. 

Preliminary map of co-landslides caused by the Mw6.4 earthquake. The image shows the location of 120 landslides with the USGS Peak Ground Acceleration Contours that shows the areas of greatest shaking (available here).

Preliminary map of co-landslides caused by the Mw6.4 earthquake. The image shows the location of 120 landslides with the USGS Peak Ground Acceleration Contours that shows the areas of greatest shaking. Credits: Knoper, Clark, Medwedeff, Townsend, Gong (University of Michigan), Zekkos (University of California Berkeley, Kirschbaum (NASA GSFC)

Assessing Power Outages and Recovery Efforts

Scientists at University Space Research Association (USRA) collaborating with NASA have used the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP data to assess power outage maps based on day-night-band data. These “Black Marble” maps are being provided to FEMA Region II’s Geospatial Resource Center by USRA’s Earth from Space Institute (EfSI), and are being used to inform response efforts on the ground. Learn more about these products here: https://www.usra.edu/black-marble-data-shows-puerto-rico-at-night-after-....

Preliminary assessment of outdoor illumination conditions before and after the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked Puerto Rico on January 7. The first map from January 8th tracks the initial outages after the earthquake, while the January 9th and 10th ma

Preliminary assessment of outdoor illumination conditions before and after the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked Puerto Rico on January 7. The first map from January 8th tracks the initial outages after the earthquake, while the January 9th and 10th maps show some recovery, particularly in the densely populated areas of San Juan, Ponce, and Arecibo. Credit: Universities Space Research Association (USRA)