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Sentinel-1 SAR Images Show Buildup of Marine Traffic at Suez Canal

Megan Gallagher

Marine traffic has come to a standstill in Egypt’s Suez Canal, one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world. The Ever Given, a 224,000 ton vessel that is as long as the Empire State Building, ran aground on March 23, 2021 after being caught in 40-knot winds and a sandstorm that caused poor visibility. Currently eight tugboats are working to free the large container ship.

The Sentinel-1 series of images above gives a clear idea of how the disruption of one of the main marine communication lines can lead to significant economic problems.

The images above were captured by the Sentinel-1  sensors (data courtesy EU/ESA) and processed using ENVI® SARscape®. The ability to observe theearth in any atmospheric condition as well as to shoot the same geographical area with the high temporal frequency, provided by the Sentinel-1 A and B sensors, not only allows us to capture the event in near-real time, but also to observe its evolution. These images show normal traffic in the Canal prior to the blockage, as well as the ever- increasing traffic jam to access the passageway that accounts for approximately 30 percent of container ship traffic globally each day.

Using ENVI SARscape and ENVI SARscape Analytics, ships can be distinguished on water due to their signal response with SAR data. SAR show ships as very bright points and areas as compared to the dark background of water. This is because of how the energy gets reflected. With this analysis, we can easily detect, count and track ships. In this case, we can see just how many ships are backed up waiting for passage through the Suez Canal. With Sentinel-1 15m ground range data we can even see the orientation of the Ever Given as it is lodged in the canal. 

Data processed by sarmap SA.

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