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The spatial and temporal influence of cloud cover on satellite-based emergency mapping of earthquake disasters.

Robinson, T.R. and Rosser, N.J. and Walters, R.J. (2019) 'The spatial and temporal influence of cloud cover on satellite-based emergency mapping of earthquake disasters.', Scientific reports., 9 . p. 12455.


The ability to rapidly access optical satellite imagery is now an intrinsic component of managing the disaster response that follows a major earthquake. These images provide synoptic data on the impacts, extent, and intensity of damage, which is essential for mitigating further losses by feeding into the response coordination. However, whilst the efficiency of the response can be hampered when cloud cover limits image availability, spatio-temporal variations in cloud cover have never been considered as part of the design of effective disaster mapping. Here we show how annual variations in cloud cover may affect our capacity to respond rapidly throughout the year and consequently contribute to overall earthquake risk. We find that on a global scale when accounting for cloud, the worst time of year for an earthquake disaster is between June and August. During these months, 40% of the global population at risk from earthquakes are obscured from optical satellite view for >3 consecutive days. Southeastern Asia is particularly strongly affected, accounting for the majority of the population at risk from earthquakes that could be obscured by cloud in every month. Our results demonstrate the importance of the timing of earthquakes in terms of our capacity to respond effectively, highlighting the need for more intelligent design of disaster response that is not overly reliant on optical satellite imagery.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:09 August 2019
Date deposited:29 August 2019
Date of first online publication:28 August 2019
Date first made open access:No date available

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