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|These are color composite radar images showing the area around Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The images were acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on April 14, 1994 (left image) and October 5,1994 (right image). The images are centered at about 15 degrees north latitude and 120.5 degrees east longitude. Both images were obtained with the same viewing geometry. |
The color composites were made by displaying the L-band (horizontally transmitted and received) in red; the L-band (horizontally transmitted and vertically received) in green; and the C-band (horizontally transmitted and vertically received) in blue. The area shown is approximately 40 kilometers by 65 kilometers (25 miles by 40 miles). The main volcanic crater on Mount Pinatubo produced by the June 1991 eruptions and the steep slopes on the upper flanks of the volcano are easily seen in these images. Red on the high slopes shows the distribution of the ash deposited during the 1991 eruption, which appears red because of the low cross-polarized radar returns at C and L bands. The dark drainages radiating away from the summit are the smooth mudflows, which even three years after the eruptions continue to flood the river valleys after heavy rain.
Comparing the two images shows that significant changes have occurred in the intervening five months along the Pasig-Potrero rivers (the dark area in the lower right of the images). Mudflows, called "lahars," that occurred during the 1994 monsoon season filled the river valleys, allowing the lahars to spread over the surrounding countryside. Three weeks before the second image was obtained, devastating lahars more than doubled the area affected in the Pasig-Potrero rivers, which is clearly visible as the increase in dark area on the lower right of the images. Migration of deposition to the east (right) has affected many communities. Newly affected areas included the community of Bacolor, Pampanga, where thousands of homes were buried in meters of hot mud and rock as 80,000 people fled the lahar-stricken area. Scientists are closely monitoring the westward migration ( toward the left in this image) of the lahars as the Pasig-Potrero rivers seek to join with the Porac River, an area that has not seen laharic activity since the eruption. This could be devastating because the Pasig-Potrero rivers might be permanently redirected to lower elevations along the Porac River where communities are located. Ground saturation with water during the rainy season reveals inactive channels that were dry in the April image. A small lake has turned into a pond in the lower reaches of the Potrero River because the channels are full of lahar deposits and the surface runoff has no where to flow. Changes in the degree of erosion in ash and pumice deposits from the 1991 eruption can also be seen in the channels that deliver the mudflow material to the Pasig-Potrero rivers.
The 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption is well known for its near-global effects on the atmosphere and short-term climate due to the large amount of sulfur dioxide that was injected into the upper atmosphere. Locally, however, the effects will most likely continue to impact surrounding areas for as long as the next 10 to 15 years. Mudflows, quite certainly, will continue to pose severe hazards to adjacent areas. Radar observations like those obtained by SIR-C/X-SAR will play a key role in monitoring these changes because of the radar's ability to see in daylight or darkness and even in the worst weather conditions. Radar imaging will be particularly useful, for example, during the monsoon season, when the lahars form. Frequent imaging of these lahar fields will allow scientists to better predict when they are likely to begin flowing again and which communities might be at risk.
Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. The radars illuminate Earth with microwaves, allowing detailed observations at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. SIR-C/X-SAR uses three microwave wavelengths: L-band (24 cm), C-band (6 cm) and X-band (3 cm). The multi-frequency data will be used by the international scientific community to better understand the global environment and how it is changing. The SIR-C/X-SAR data, complemented by aircraft and ground studies, will give scientists clearer insights into those environmental changes which are caused by nature and those changes which are induced by human activity. SIR-C was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. X-SAR was developed by the Dornier and Alenia Spazio companies for the German space agency, Deutsche Agentur fuer Raumfahrtangelegenheiten (DARA), and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), with the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fuer Luft und Raumfahrt e.V.(DLR), the major partner in science, operations and data processing of X-SAR.
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