The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forces countries and businesses to dramatically slow down their economic and social activities. Satellite images document these current states vividly.
The 2020 outbreak of the novel coronavirus is primarily a human tragedy, affecting the lives and activities of millions of people worldwide. The pandemic has a growing impact on the local and global economies as most countries around the world have been taking measures to stop the disease spread. In the second half of March many countries have started to issue recommendations on social distancing and to lock down movement of people locally or nationwide.
These lockdowns include travel restrictions, shutting down borders, closing public spaces and setting restrictions to businesses such as restaurants, museums, and theaters, canceling large events like concerts and festivals, and encouraging self-isolation. While these measures are necessary for people’s safety, they are putting many companies in travel, entertainment, and service sectors at risk of significant financial losses.
Satellite images reveal the impact of the pandemic as vacant parking lots next to malls, airports and theme parks, sparse traffic on the roads even during rush hours, grounded airplanes, and reduced port activities.
Amidst the ongoing situation, ICEYE synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation is monitoring the world under lockdown. Significant pattern-of-life changes are visible from ICEYE SAR data.
Theme parks around the world are some of the hardest-hit, with nearly every park in the multi-billion-dollar global industry closing its doors to the public, as city and national leaders implement restrictions on group gathering size. For the first time in history, the Walt Disney Company has closed all of its theme parks across the world indefinitely. Sea World, Six Flags, Legoland, and Busch Gardens have also closed in March 2020.
Disneyland near Paris, France, is one of the most popular theme parks in the world. The ICEYE SAR image below shows the empty parking areas on a Friday afternoon in March (Figure 1).
Figure 1. High-resolution ICEYE SAR satellite image showing Disneyland’s empty parking lot near Paris, France. Acquisition: March 20, 2020, at 15:27 (local time).
The two-part parking lot provides space for 10,000 vehicles. The parking area itself appears black in the image and is divided into sections by bright lines that are caused by the reflection of the radar signal from the parking lot dividers. The equally spaced lamp posts are also visible as single bright dots on the black parking lot.
The linear structure between the two parking sections is a one and a half-mile long sidewalk that brings the guests from the parking lot to the park. It is covered with a curved tent roof and its structure causes the dotted bright reflection.
The pattern of empty parking lots can be detected at all theme parks during the lockdown. The following examples show ICEYE SAR satellite images of three world-famous parks of the World Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, USA.
Figure 2. High-resolution ICEYE radar satellite image showing empty parking lots of the Disney's Hollywood Studios & Disney's Art of Animation Resort near Orlando, Florida, US, on a Tuesday afternoon. Acquisition: March 31, 2020, at 15:56 (local time).
Figure 3. High-resolution image of empty parking lots of the Epcot Theme Park near Orlando, Florida, US, on a Monday afternoon captured with an ICEYE SAR satellite. Acquisition: March 30, 2020, at 15:52 (local time)
Figure 4. High-resolution radar image of the empty parking lot of Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park near Orlando, Florida, US, on a Saturday afternoon taken with an ICEYE satellite. Acquisition: March 28, 2020, at 15:58 (local time).
Another sector heavily affected by the pandemic is the cruise ship industry. All major cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International, had to suspend their operations without knowledge of when they will be able to return to normal operations. This massive disruption has huge negative financial impacts on the companies’ revenue.
Many cruise ships with passengers onboard were struggling over several weeks to find open ports to disembark. In the meanwhile, many of them had to stay anchored in the open sea for an extended time.
The ICEYE SAR image shown below captured several cruise ships anchoring in The Bahamas' waters, near the CocoCay port in March 2020 (Figure 5).
Figure 5. ICEYE SAR satellite image showing multiple vessels in the North Atlantic Ocean. Acquisition: March 21, 2020, at 4:34 AM local time.
Nine vessels are detected in the SAR image above anchoring in the North Atlantic Ocean. To identify them, the information from their Automatic Identification System (AIS), a system that is required on board of all big vessels, was used. The recorded AIS signal delivers the name, International Maritime Organization (IMO) number, country of registration, type, length, position, speed, and heading of the vessel. For analysing the SAR image, the detected vessels were matched to their AIS signals.
The liners identified in the image above are the “Veendam”, “Zuiderdam”, and “Nieuw Amsterdam” from the Holland America Line, the “Navigator Of The Seas”, “Harmony Of The Seas”, “Oasis Of The Seas”, “Anthem Of The Seas”, and “Mariner Of The Seas” from the Royal Caribbean International and the “Celebrity Reflection” from the Celebrity Cruises.
Three more cruise ships were detected anchoring close to The Bahamas (Figure 6). The Royal Caribbean’s “Independence of the Seas” and the Princess Cruise Lines’ “Island Princess Cruise Ship” and “Sky Princess Cruise Ship” are clearly visible in the SAR image.
Figure 6. ICEYE SAR satellite image showing cruise ships anchoring in the North Atlantic Ocean. Acquisition: March 20, 2020, at 04:43 AM local time.
Monitoring Activities on Earth from Space
ICEYE offers monitoring solutions using its constantly growing constellation of small SAR satellites. This enables an effective analysis of activities taking place anywhere on Earth - with high-resolution data - multiple times per day, regardless of if it is day or night, and regardless of cloud cover.
Explore the use of high-resolution Spotlight imagery for monitoring, below: