How Does the Canadian Space Agency Help When Hurricanes Come Calling

Hurricane Arthur heads to the Maritimes in 2014. Credit: NASA.

With the recent uptick in the hurricane season, and the devastating storms Harvey and Irma, what type of support does the Canadian Space Agency provide in the event one comes northward to Canada? And with Hurricane Jose heading on a course that could see it brush Nova Scotia as tropical storm, it’s an important issue worth exploring.

Hurricane Jose and Nova Scotia

At the moment Environment Canada, through the Canadian Hurricane Centre, has issued a Tropical cyclone information statement for Queens, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties in Nova Scotia saying in part, “persistent moisture and cloud cover over Nova Scotia as well as rough surf along the Atlantic coast will be the norm this week as Jose crawls along to the southeast of Cape Cod. This is odd behaviour for a storm in this part of the Atlantic. High pressure to the east and absence of the jet stream to move it along are the key factors.”


Hurricane Jose track.
Hurricane Jose track. Credit: Environment Canada.

But where do they get all their data to track Hurricanes? Not from Canadian weather satellites, as Canada has none of our own.  What Canada does have, is an agreement with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use data from their fleet of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES).

Canada does have one satellite that is used in relation to hurricanes. It’s just not a dedicated weather satellite.

RADARSAT-2 and Hurricanes

RADARSAT-2 is an Earth observation satellite that uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to collect data in near real-time. It is owned and operated by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) and was primarily paid for by the Canadian government. This means the government gets access to data from the satellite on ongoing basis to serve Canadians needs.

How can RADARSAT-2 help  when a hurricane comes calling?

According to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), RADARSAT-2 can use images take from its Synthetic Aperture Radar to help determine what areas within a hurricane have stronger and lighter winds. In the images the radar takes  “rougher areas, corresponding to higher wind speeds, appear bright on the image, while smoother areas, corresponding to lower wind speeds, appear relatively dark.” As well, RADARSAT-2’s data is useful for storm tracking and making better predictions of hurricane landfall.

NOAA GOES-East IR image track of hurricane Jose.
NOAA GOES-East IR image track of hurricane Irma. Credit: Environment Canada/NOAA.

A spokesperson for the CSA told SpaceQ in an email that they monitor “the status of the Atlantic Basin tropical storms and hurricanes from June to November every year through its Hurricane Watch Program. RADARSAT-2 images are acquired and can be shared with government users and with partners outside the Government of Canada in the context of a joint project.”

“Furthermore, the CSA is a member of the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’. The Charter is an agreement among its 16 member space agencies to pool together their satellite and other resources to provide data and information products in situations of crisis caused by natural and technological disasters. As of September 8, the Charter has been activated 87 times for cases of storms or hurricanes since its creation in 2000. In Canada, the Charter can be activated by Public Safety Canada. By participating in the Charter, our country also gets access to data from the Charter’s constellation of satellites.”

That support was recently used in conjunction with hurricane Irma. The CSA  provided data from RADARSAT-2 three times between September 5 to 7 in  support of the emergency response efforts for Antigua and Barbuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

RADARSAT-2 Data for hurricane Irma. Map produced by UNITAR-UNOSAT. Credit: MDA.

Now another hurricane, Maria, a category 5 is threatening the Caribbean.  Should it be needed, the CSA will provide RADARSAT-2 data to help emergency responders.

NOAA Hurricane Maria track
NOAA Hurricane Maria track. Credit NOAA.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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