Estonian researchers develop a remote flood sensing service

The researchers at Tallinn University of Technology have created a reliable prototype device that allows to determine the location and predict the extent of the floods.

One of the objectives of the service is the routine detection of floods using satellite images. The second objective is the prediction of the duration and area of the flooding based on statistics, the university said in a statement.

The work is set to be completed in June 2023 and the first users of the service will be the Estonian Rescue Board and the Estonian Transport Administration; the service is also available for others who are interested in flooding information, primarily from a nature tourism point of view.

A flood in Estonia. Photo by TalTech.

Liis Sipelgas, a senior research fellow at the university, said the prototype was based on the operative processing and analysis of the remote sensing data.

“For instance, if a satellite flies over Estonia at 6 am, then after a couple of hours everyone will be able to see on the website of the Estonian Environment Agency a map showing the extent of the flooding. Additionally, the prototype allows for the mapping of areas that have been repeatedly covered with water during the year, thus providing essential information to local governments in processing plans and determining construction conditions,” she said.

Agne Aruväli from the Estonian environment ministry said it was necessary to introduce the use of remote sensing data because the warmer autumns and winters caused by climate change have brought about floods that affect forest management, nature tourism and ecosystems on a wider scale. “To assess the impact and risks of flooding, the state needs an overview of their extent and duration,” she pointed out.

A flood in Estonia. Photo by TalTech.

Because there is no hydrometric network covering the whole of Estonia at present, satellite monitoring is a suitable alternative. “It is not cost-efficient to set up water level monitoring stations by all bodies of water. Remote sensing helps remedy shortcomings in flood monitoring,” Katriin Kaptein from the Estonian Environment Agency said, adding the agency is exploring new ways to implement remote sensing.

Sipelgas added the researchers were also considering transforming other prototypes of the remote sensing project into a state service – for example, the monitoring of deposits to assess mining operations, the operational use of satellite images to map climate change, and the use of remote sensing data to supplement the fire hazard map.

Cover: A flood in Estonia. Photo by TalTech.

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