NASA has captured the effects of the powerful cyclone that struck the Myanmar coast on Saturday, May 3, using an imaging instrument onboard its Terra satellite. The instrument, called the moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS), measures the reflective solar radiation and emitted thermal radiation from the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Atmospheric scientists are currently using the instrument to study the behavior of clouds and aerosols in our atmosphere so that they can, for example, pinpoint the locations of active fires and track the paths of pollutants.
The instrument scans broad swaths of the earth–about 2,300 kilometers at a time–and is able to image the entire earth in one day. Because it is observing the earth all the time, MODIS is able to capture events that only happen occasionally, like Cyclone Nargis.
MODIS captured images of the Myanmar coast before and after Cyclone Nargis struck. The image on the left is the coastline on April 15, and the image on the right was taken May 5, after the cyclone hit the Irrawaddy delta and plowed across the country and through the main city of Rangoon. At landfall, winds were approximately 130 miles per hour, with gusts of 150 to 160 miles per hour, accompanied by a 12-foot wave. In the images, the water is blue or nearly black, vegetation is bright green, bare ground is tan, and clouds are white or light blue.
U.S. diplomats in Burma are estimating that the death toll may reach nearly 100,000, but official reports from the Burmese junta are announcing 22,980 deaths, 42,119 missing, and 1,383 injured.
You can see more images of the cyclone, courtesy of MODIS, here.