Aller directement au contenu.

Integrate Earth observation technologies into emergency preparedness activites

Context and project description

Satellites used to prevent ice jams: for many years now, this reality is part of the means at the disposal of Quebec and Canadian authorities regarding public safety, thanks to cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency. Images from RADARSAT-2 help them to plan responses and manage problems with ice in rivers in certain hydrographic regions. These images allow them, among other things, to produce ice maps that are sent over the Web to regional decision-makers for monitoring and responses during floods caused by ice jams.

On the one hand, the objective of this project is to use this technology in a more efficient way by developing new processing capabilities for the creation of ice and clear water flood maps, as well as improving warning signals and vigilance on the ground. We are also seeking to design new value-added products for surveillance, prediction, preparation and response in the event of flooding and ice jams. On the other hand, the project leaders will work to develop new partnerships, allowing more organizations in the network to benefit from land observation technologies. They will also seek to develop partnerships to share expertise from other hydrographic regions in Canada.

The anticipated results from each of the project's steps are, firstly, the definitions of the needs of partners, then the improvement of ice maps and clear water flood map creation procedure, field validation by emergency preparedness responders, and, finally, the improvement of vigilance indicators, allowing for the forecasting of water-related natural catastrophes. The first areas to benefit from this project are the Chaudière River and the Montréal island group. The majority of the other regions in Quebec have already started and are also benefiting from this technology and its tools.


Regional emergency preparedness advisors for Quebec's Ministère de la sécurité publique (Department of public safety; MSP) can now order Radarsat-2 images. These images are transformed into ice maps and used for surveillance, management and emergency response purposes during the risk of an ice jam or flooding caused by an ice jam.

The St. Lawrence Action Plan allows partners who are necessary for completing the project to be brought together. This partnership, which has created cooperation between the federal and provincial governments, has improved and changed daily emergency preparedness operations. In fact, emergency preparedness advisors now have access to new work tools and authorities have new decision-making tools, including ice maps.

Images created by Radarsat-2 are delivered to the MSP and are processed by the geomatics team from the Direction des technologies de l’information (Information technology directorate). This processing, which is carried out using an algorithm developed by the teledetection laboratory at the Eau Terre Environnement Centre of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (National scientific research institute; INRS), allows ice maps to be created.

The algorithm developed by the INRS allows us to identify the type of ice based on its internal roughness (presence of air bubbles) and the roughness of the ice covering’s surface (presence of blocks and accumulations).

The different classes in the legend allow us to identify various types of ice: black ice, white ice and consolidated ice. The type of ice that is present, frazil ice, ice accumulations, ice jams and open water leads can all be identified thanks to satellite images. In the blink of an eye, we can have a precise image of the situation for an entire watercourse.

The implementation of this project contributes, in particular, to detecting flood risks more effectively when ice is present or not, supporting emergency preparedness operations, and analyzing the impact of violent coastal storms.

Land observation technologies have also allowed us to design other products that help with planning, preparation and emergency response. These same Radarsat-2 images are used to evaluate the extent of flooding and as a result, allow us to better maps flood-prone areas, as was the case in 2011 during the floods in Montérégie. In addition, optical images from the Pleiades-1A and Pleiades-1B satellites have allowed us to see the progress of restoration work in downtown Lac-Mégantic, near the site of the July 6, 2013 accident. The perimeter of operations and the accident’s risk zone can also be observed using Digital Globe satellite images.

As part of the RIPS project, the Canadian Space Agency has worked in close cooperation with the MSP and the Montréal firm Effigis Geo-Solutions in order to create an index of radar and optical images contained in a set of archives at different resolutions for every coastal region along the St. Lawrence River. Thus, thanks to that index, research was conducted from January 2009 to March 2013 using the following satellites: WorldView-1 and 2, QuickBird, Pleiades-1A, RapidEye, GeoEye-1, Spot 5, Ikonos-2 and Radarsat-2. This allowed us to analyze the impact of coastal storms that can cause major environmental and socioeconomic damage (flooding, damage to infrastructure, erosion of coasts and shorelines, and landslides etc.). There is interest in the possibility of combining the existing image of a given region with another image from the same region, taken following a storm, to detect changes and allow authorities to qualify and quantify any damage. For example, satellite images were used following the spring tides of 2010 to create maps of the affected areas.

The ice maps, other additional information on these maps, as well as their resulting products are available through the Government of Quebec's "données ouvertesExternal link " (open data) Web site (French only). The ice maps can also be viewed using the MSP’s G.O.LOC geomatics platformExternal link (French only).

Participating departments

Government of Canada

  • Public Safety Canada
  • Canadian Space Agency

Government of Quebec

  • Ministère de la Sécurité publique