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Monitoring and mapping the conflict in Iraq using Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 data

Monitoring the evolution of wars and conflicts, the damage they produce to the environment, heritage sites and infrastructures, as well as the extent of the humanitarian crises to which they lead can be a complicated task, given the danger that being on-site poses.

Satellite imagery is a key way to both monitor and map a conflict’s evolution and impact, without the risks and costs associated with having people on-site. It allows users to capture reliable imagery, and ensures accurate and timely monitoring over sites located in areas affected by ongoing threats, where it’s otherwise difficult to get up to date information and verify potential damage.

Deimos Imaging has been monitoring and mapping the conflict in and around Mosul since its beginning using its two satellites: the medium resolution Deimos-1 and the very-high resolution Deimos-2. Both satellites operate continuously, with a global network of five ground station ensuring contact with each of them every orbit to command and download data every 90 minutes (see ‘Satellite capabilities’).

In this study, a synergistic tipping and queuing has been carried out, collecting information and coordinating activities between Deimos Imaging’s sensors. Thanks to its wide swath and high revisit time, Deimos-1 spotted where the main developments were going on in Mosul and its surroundings; then, this information was used to task the very-high-resolution Deimos-2 over the identified areas to get much more detailed imagery.
The ability to record a sequence of images over time at different spatial resolution and the use of the tipping and queuing technique enabled the tracking and capture of the most relevant developments in Mosul’s conflict and its dynamics, both in context and in detail.

Moreover, the expansion of camps for refugees and internally displaced people (IDP), such as the one in Hammam al-Alil 25km south of Mosul was monitored, as were the evolution of the oil fires in Qayyarah and the changes in the agricultural production in the Nineveh region.

Thus, Deimos Imaging’s imagery helped with the assessment of the humanitarian, economic and environmental impact of this conflict, providing data to decision-makers in a wide range of areas, from NGOs and international organisations to local institutions promoting precision agriculture for the country’s recovery post-conflict.

The impact on agriculture

The Nineveh province was once Iraq’s breadbasket, accounting for almost half the country’s overall wheat supply. However, the ongoing conflict is jeopardising the agricultural production, mainly in the regions of the Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahuddin governorates in Iraq. Deimos Imaging tasked both Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 satellites on the Nineveh Governorate in Iraq. The bands of Deimos-1 (RG, NIR) and Deimos-2 (RGB, NIR) have been especially designed for monitoring vegetation. In particular, they provide analytic-ready imagery, supplying the information needed for vegetation indices calculations. These provide an indication of the relative density and health of vegetation for each pixel of Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 imagery. In addition, the satellites’ high temporal resolution capacity ensures data is acquired systematically, enabling consistent monitoring and analysis. In general, this high frequency and high-resolution data can be used to supply a powerful operational service for precision agriculture, with an accurate multitemporal overlay at pixel level. This can empower precision agriculture users at different stages: planning; in-season practices and yield.

Deimos-1 image, Agriculture in the Nineveh region, Iraq

Deimos-2 image, Agriculture in the Nineveh region, Iraq

The humanitarian impact

Satellite imagery plays an increasingly important role in monitoring and measuring humanitarian crises. It serves to support decision-making and manage humanitarian aid and response through, for instance, the monitoring of changes in refugee IDP camps. Deimos-2 data helped to detect the evolution of the refugee camp at Hammam Al-Alil, around 25km south of Mosul. The multitemporal analysis of Deimos-2 imagery provided reliable information to measure the camp’s growth and density over time, allowing an estimate of the population sheltered there. Accurate multitemporal analysis showed that the number of tents increased from 3,738 on February 19 to 8,136 on April 22. Therefore, the camp doubled its size in just two months. Given that, on average, six people are accommodated in each tent, the number of people hosted in the camp increased from around 22,500 to almost 50,000 between February 19 to April 22. The image captured on April 22 also shows a part of the camp still under construction, which enables a forecast of future occupancy of almost 56,000 people –a number that matches the capacity expectations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is responsible for managing and developing this camp.

Deimos-2 images, Hammam al Alil camp, captured on February 19 (left) and April 22 (right), 2017