Oct 21, 2019

NASA-Rio de Janeiro Partnership for disaster modeling, crisis response and city management

Working together to connect the use of Earth observation to the urban scale for disaster modeling, crisis response and city management

Guest writer Dalia Kirschbaum is a NASA Earth research scientist. She is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil attending the NASA Earth Applied Sciences for Disaster Risk Reduction Workshop.

According to a recent study, approximately 155,000 people are exposed to potential impacts from floods and landslides in the area of Rio de Janeiro. This is primarily due to the city’s steep slopes, intense seasonal rainfall, and vulnerable populations situated on marginal slopes.

The attendees of NASA’s 2019 Disaster Risk Reduction Workshop in Rio.

In December 2015, NASA and the City of Rio de Janeiro signed an agreement to support innovative efforts to better understand, anticipate, and monitor hazards and environmental issues, including heavy rainfall and landslides, urban flooding, air quality and water quality in and around the city. This collaboration leverages the unique attributes of NASA's satellite data and modeling frameworks and Rio de Janeiro's management and monitoring capabilities to improve awareness of how the city of Rio may be impacted by hazards and affected by climate change.

As part of this partnership the two groups are meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week to discuss the progress made in the landslide modeling work and kick off a new project focused on urban flood modeling. The “Applied Sciences for Disaster Risk Reduction Workshop” and other outreach and scientific engagement events will feature technical discussions with city management and scientists to connect the scientific modeling efforts to decision making needs around the city. The week of events will also engage the university communities and other research agencies to highlight other exciting research and activities that focus on improving Rio’s resilience to and mitigation of disaster impacts.

Photo of desks and computer screens in control center
The Center of Operations for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Credit: NASA/Dalia Kirschbaum

The partnership has made noteworthy strides in sharing data, models and information to implement new systems and capabilities at the city level in order to provide actionable information for city management and planning. Specifically, Rio de Janeiro is now running a landslide model developed by NASA within the city operationally (LHASA-Rio). The city localized NASA’s global model to provide real-time estimates of potential landslide activity at high resolution, providing a real-time view of potential landslide hazard across the city with successful performance during recent extreme rainfall events. Now as part of a newly funded project through the NASA Earth Science Disasters Program, this work is being extended to improve prediction of landslide events using rainfall forecasts and extend analysis of landslide impacts to better characterize areas of exposure and risk at high resolution.

During this collaborative workshop, another project will be officially started that focuses on building and developing capacity for urban flood modeling within the city. This work will focus on using the wide range of tools and datasets available to NASA as well as the Rio de Janeiro ground observation system in order to develop an urban flood model to better inform city operations and planning before, during and after rainfall events.

Group photo of two men and two women
NASA’s Sana Khan and Augusto Getirana, both with the University of Maryland and Dalia Kirschbaum of NASA Goddard with Felipe Mandiarino of the Instituto Pereira Passos (left to right).

The model will be built from NASA’s Land Information System (LIS), which supports multiple hydrological models and datasets. In the initial phases of testing, various hydrological models (LSM) will be tested for accuracy. LISFLOOD-FP is an advanced urban flood model, developed at the University of Bristol, and will be used to monitor and forecast flood risk areas in the city. Satellite data, such as NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) dataset will be merged with in situ observations, informing these models where storms may occur, resulting in floods.

The goals of the landslide and new urban flooding projects are to help improve crisis management and disaster response capabilities for the city of Rio de Janeiro in order to minimize the loss of life and property and to develop a framework that can be applied to other prone places around the globe.

Photo of Dalia Kirschbaum

By Dalia Kirschbaum, NASA research scientist

Earth Science Division - Applied Sciences, Washington DC

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