Manila Observatory is now a Data Analysis Node of JAXA’s Sentinel Asia project: an interview with Dr. Celine Vicente

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Dr. Celine Vicente and the staff of Geomatics for Environment and Development of Manila Observatory

Dr. Celine Vicente and the staff of Geomatics for Environment and Development (GED) program of Manila Observatory. Beside Dr. Vicente is a computer screen showing an image of the Philippines from JAXA's satellite, with the red areas corresponding to the regions imaged by the satellite.

Last Wednesday , I was on the second floor of the Manila Observatory’s Administration building talking with a friend on how we can redesign the Manila Observatory’s web page. It’s a busy corridor: people come there to chat for a minute or two on their way to their respective offices. The setting is perfect: a view of the Mass Communications building through the treetops under the clear blue sky. Usually you’ll see some shrikes hopping on the branches and zebra pigeons treading the green grass. If you are lucky, you’ll get glimpses of golden orioles, too, and hear their call.

“Pope, Donna,” A lady called as she walked towards us. “Do you know that Manila Observatory is now a member of Sentinel Asia?”

It was Dr. Celine Vicente, the head of the Geomatics for Environment and Development. She finished her Ph.D in Human, Economic and Regional Geography, Université de Paris X – Nanterre, France, in 1998. Her main interests are in using Satellite Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems for land use classification. Lately, she has been working on the use of polarized light data from satellites to extract more information than what can be obtained by simply mapping light intensity from three different frequencies to colors red, green, and blue to make false color maps.

“Why is our membership in Sentinel Asia significant?” I asked.

“It is very significant, Pope.” Dr. Vicente replied. “During disasters such as earthquakes or floods or storms, we can access data from JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) satellites. We can get as many images as we need. The problem is the processing. We need to process satellite data quick. As of now, we are still working on our land use algorithms. We need programmers.”

“I am also trying to get some of my students to work on satellite imagery,” I said. “But students are hard to find. We need to advertise more what we do here at the Observatory, so that students would come. We need to advertise not only in the Physics Department, but also in Math, Computer Science, and Engineering.”

“Before I was reluctant to accept students,” Dr. Vicente said. “But because of Sentinel Asia, I am now willing to accept anyone who is willing to be trained in satellite remote sensing.”

“I know that you, Pope, and Donna are believers. I think there is really somebody helping us, because seemingly insurmountable problems usually got solved overnight. Once we have this problem: we downloaded satellite images, but the maps won’t fit with each other properly. We panicked. Then Raul and Liz tried other softwares than the proprietary software we are using. After a day of work, they solved the problem.  That was a moral lesson for us: we should not rely on only one software.”

“I think it is Padre Algue and the Jesuits who once worked at the Manila Observatory,” I said. “Padre Algue drew the first meteorological maps of the Philippines. The Jesuits are praying for us.”

An old man came, walking slowly. It was Fr. Sergio Su, SJ, the Manila Observatory’s chief seismologist.

“Father,” Dr. Vicente said. “Do you know that we are now a member of Sentinel Asia?”

“What is it?” Fr. Su asked. And Dr. Vicente explained to him.

Fr. Su nodded. “That’s great,” he said.

Fr. Su’s voice faltered as before. His main interests are in the use seismic data from different stations to deduce the types of seismic focal mechanisms like how rock layers on both sides of a fault slide past each other, creating upthrusts like the cliffs in Loyola House of Studies overlooking the Marikina Valley. He has done extensive work on Mindoro’s earthquakes.  He is already in his 80’s now and has survived a heart operation last year. But as Fr. Dan McNamara, SJ once told me before, “Jesuits don’t retire. They only die.” And Fr. Su refused to retire. “I shall die in harness,” he said.

When Fr. Su left, we talked for a while more and parted.

Ateneo Physics News Notes:

Manila Observatory applied to be a member of Sentinel Asia as Data Analysis Node last 7 December 2010. Last 14 February 2011, the Manila Observatory’s Director Antonia Loyzaga was informed by the Sentinel Asia Secretariat that the Observatory’s application was approved.  Sentinel Asia is an international project of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) that aims to support disaster manangement by Remote Sensing and WEB-GIS technologies in the Asia Pacific region.  As a Data Analysis Node, the Manila Observatory shall provide the analysis and interpretation of satellite data in aid of the region’s disaster management.  The Observatory’s research team are led by Dr. Celine Vicente of Geomatics and Environment and Development program, Dr. Gemma Narisma of the Regional Climate Systems program, and Dr. Nofel Lagrosas of the Air Quality program.  Dr. Narisma and Dr. Lagrosas are both faculty members of the Ateneo Physics Department.  Dr. Lagrosas currently serves as the department’s Acting Chair.


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Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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