COVID-19 in Australia from Space

One of the many potential applications of remotely-sensed data from commercial very high-resolution satellite sources is that of change detection. The ability to quickly and accurately detect changes on the Earth’s surface is critical for understanding interactions between humans and our natural or urban environments. Remote sensing techniques that utilise very-high resolution satellite imagery have been used in a variety of different contexts to examine phenomena on Earth, including urban development, vegetation, land use and climate. Very-high resolution imagery can also be used to analyse and monitor the different ways disasters and global events can influence society and the environment. This can be seen in the current coronavirus pandemic, which was declared a global pandemic in early 2020 and has led to a significant disruption in Australia’s daily economic, cultural and behavioural activities.

Imagery reveals how airports are now receiving a fraction of their usual traffic as a result of travel restrictions globally and within Australia. Australian airlines have had to resort to long term storage facilities and abandoned runways to accommodate their fleets. We can also see that previously bustling terminals are now only receiving a few planes a day.

Sydney QANTAS Terminal in 2018(left)/2020(right)

Australia’s only long-term aircraft storage facility in Alice Springs, is receiving increasing numbers of grounded aircraft. Airport visitor and taxi carparks in Sydney and Brisbane are close to empty, while rental carparks are completely full.


While not a common usage, high resolution imagery can also detect changes in cultural and human behaviour. Restrictions have recently closed beaches in popular areas, notably Sydney’s Northern and Eastern Beaches, to assist with the social distancing recommendations announced in March. During the closures, the message, #StayHome was found using the Airbus Pleiades satellite constellation, written on Tamarama Beach. Famous beaches that were active with life only a month ago, such as Bondi, also appeared to be completely empty. These particular examples illustrate the versatility and usefulness of high-resolution imagery in monitoring a huge array of different types of change and how they might impact or influence us.

#StayHome Tamarama Beach
Long-term Aircraft storage in Alice Springs
Short-term storage on a runway at Brisbane Airport