Global environmental challenges
Taiwan typhoon responses to get help from outer space
Slow-moving Morakot stormed into Taiwan’s typhoon hall of infamy this past week, rescue teams complained, largely because clouds hovered in the hardest hit areas even after the killer storm had passed.
The clouds blocked any aerial views of mountain villages in southern Taiwan where hundreds of people are presumed dead from landslides.
Disaster officials on this western Pacific island, a veteran of raging late summer typhoons, couldn’t even confirm the biggest landslide, which buried a village that was home to more than 1,000 people, until a day after it had happened.
But Taiwan’s National Space Organization aims to change that in five to six years by designing a radiometer that could be launched into space on one of its heavier satellites, Formosat-2 or Formosat-5. Positioned around 800 km (500 miles) above earth, the radiometer would check water levels, potentially showing whether a river had suddenly changed course, said Nick Yen, a space organisation programme director.
The same radiometer could also detect changes in the sea level, hinting at tsunamis after an earthquake, for which Taiwan is also known.
Taiwan will seek help from academia and possibly from the United States, which has already developed the technology, Yen said. He did not specify a budget but said developing the radiometer would cost more in labour than in materials. Taiwan, the world’s No. 37 space power, would share radiometer data internationally but keep the technology to itself, he said.
(Pictures – Top: Family members of flood victims look at the site of a major landslide that destroyed the mountain village of Hsiao Lin in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan, August 15, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer. Centre right: A destroyed home lies partially submerged in a river in Gaushu township after Typhoon Morakot swept through Pingtung county, southern Taiwan, August 14, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer. Bottom left: Taiwan’s first satellite is launched into orbit atop a U.S. Lockheed Martin Athena 1 rocket from Florida, in January 1999. REUTERS/Stringer.)