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Unlocking Flood Vulnerability: Remote Sensing Comes to the Rescue
Unlocking Flood Vulnerability: Remote Sensing Comes to the Rescue
Jakarta, 10 October 2023

Imagine growing up in Palembang, Indonesia, a place where your childhood school sits nestled in a valley-like terrain, situated lower than its surroundings. During the rainy season, from December to February, it was almost a given that the school would flood, leading to the joyful prospect of being sent home. Strangely, those flood-induced school closures were somewhat enjoyable, providing a reprieve from the rigors of education. What's more, after returning home, I would often circle back to the school to play in the floodwaters, turning adversity into adventure. Yet, beneath the nostalgia of these memories lies a stark reality: missing school due to floods meant falling behind in one's education compared to students in drier regions.

This seemingly ordinary childhood experience underscores a profound issue – the flawed spatial planning of schools in flood-prone areas. It raises questions about the vulnerability of our communities, especially when facing climate-induced challenges. Such personal anecdotes emphasize the importance of my research. As a part of the Remote Sensing team at Fairatmos, my research becomes even more relevant because it bridges the gap between the carbon industry's environmental responsibilities and the transformative potential of remote sensing.

By uncovering critical insights into flood vulnerability in regions like Palembang, my work not only informs our understanding of climate-induced challenges but also underscores the significance of responsible carbon management in the face of a changing climate. The data and knowledge we gain through this research enable us to adapt and implement sustainable practices, ultimately contributing to our mission of reducing carbon emissions and fostering a more resilient and environmentally responsible future.

Sentinel-1 Satellite Technology: Mapping the Unseen Threat

I utilized the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 satellite, a testament to my commitment to cutting-edge technology. This state-of-the-art technology, equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), enables researchers to peer through the clouds and darkness, making it an ideal tool for mapping changes in the Earth's surface. It's a technology that can see what the naked eye cannot, providing insights that were previously out of reach.

Multi-Temporal Mapping: Tracking the Shifting Waters

For seven years, I embarked on a multi-temporal mapping journey, carefully examining the region's fluctuations in flood vulnerability. Using the innovative Normalized Difference Flood Index (NDFI), I delved into the subtle variations between dry and rainy seasons, painting a comprehensive picture of flood-prone areas across different years.

The NDFI, derived from the data captured by Sentinel-1, offered a powerful tool for assessing flood risk. By combining data from multiple years, I uncovered vital trends and patterns that can guide our understanding of the region's vulnerability to floods.

Geographical Representation: From Oval to Triangular

The spotlight of this study focuses on the Bodri and Serayu Watersheds, representing the northern and southern parts of Java, respectively. These watersheds were not chosen at random. The unique shapes of these regions played a significant role in their selection. Serayu, with its oval shape extending from east to west, contrasts starkly with Bodri, which takes on a triangular form, stretching from south to north.


Flood HazardFlood Hazard Serayu


Measuring the Impact: Beyond Geographical Data

This research transcends mere geographical representation. It delves into the human dimension, as I quantified the affected area, population impact, and the extent of agricultural land at risk. These aspects are crucial for planning and mitigation efforts, as they provide a holistic understanding of the flood's consequences on local communities.

Accuracy Testing: A Crucial Validation

To ensure the accuracy of my findings, I employed the Topographic Position Index (TPI). This index helps us grasp the relative elevation of an area compared to its surroundings. The hypothesis here is simple: lower-lying areas, the valleys, are more susceptible to flooding than their higher-lying counterparts. The study confirms this hypothesis, underlining the vital role that topography plays in flood vulnerability assessments.

Uncovering the Patterns: Low-Lying Areas and Flood Susceptibility

Perhaps the most compelling revelation of this study is the discernment of a distinct pattern. The research makes it clear that low-lying areas, those nestled in valleys, are disproportionately more prone to flooding. These findings are more than just statistics; they underscore the critical need for tailored flood preparedness measures in regions with such topographical characteristics.

Implications for Resilience: Turning Knowledge into Action

Understanding flood vulnerability is not just an academic exercise. It is a call to action. The insights gleaned from this study empower local authorities to implement targeted flood prevention measures, enhance early warning systems, and bolster community resilience. The study, led by me, serves as a blueprint for smarter spatial planning, showing us how to mitigate the impact of flooding and ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.

Let us harken back to the story that started it all - a journey through the floods of Palembang and a childhood marked by unexpected holidays due to inundation. Those memories, while laden with nostalgia, are also a poignant reminder of the need for spatial planning and flood mitigation measures. My childhood enjoyment, framed within the broader context of research and findings, underscores the critical importance of understanding flood vulnerability and rectifying the spatial planning of vulnerable areas.

Through advancements like Sentinel-1 satellite technology and insightful studies led by young minds like mine, we are better equipped to tackle climate-induced challenges and elevate communities from the shackles of flood vulnerability. This paper, along with many others, stands as a testament to our ability to turn adversity into opportunity and to transform flood-prone areas into resilient, thriving communities. As we confront the pressing issues of our time, may this research, guided by the diligence of individuals like me, serve as a beacon of hope and a call to action, ensuring that the memories of childhood floods are just that – memories, rather than ongoing challenges faced by future generations.

This column serves as a platform that offers Fairatmos team members the opportunity to share their expertise and heartfelt insights on subjects that ignite their professional passions.

About the Author

Ramadhan is Fairatmos’ go-to geospatial expert. With a deep dive into remote sensing and data science, he's our guy for turning satellite images into precise land data. He excels in optimizing preprocessing workflows and is adept at crafting cloud-based geospatial applications, ensuring swift data delivery and enabling comprehensive deforestation risk analysis. On top of his work, he is also a passionate researcher. He will be participating in the Asia-Pacific Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar (APSAR 2023).

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