NASA’s satellite images of the Korean peninsula at night are a well known and graphic visualization of the huge gap in economic development between North and South Korea.
But it turns out, there are other lessons that can be learned from nighttime pictures of North Korea. An economist at Stanford University has studied almost two decades of satellite pictures of the country to conclude the government in Pyongyang is shifting economic activity to industrial centers, reducing the effect of sanctions on city dwellers while increasing their impact on those in the countryside.
Lee Yong Suk analysed nighttime images taken by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, a U.S. Department of Defense program from which images of the world at night are made available.
A NASA satellite has captured the seasonal fires burning across North Korea at present as farmers clear land for fresh crops.
In images snapped by its Terra satellite, smoke can be seen getting carried by the wind right across the Sea of Japan to over Hokkaido and northern Japan.
A visit by Kim Jong Un to inspect KPA Air Force Unit 1016 has provided a closer look at a new solar power plant built alongside an existing wind power plant.
KCNA carried a handful of images of the visited, but more were broadcast by Korean Central TV during its evening news program. Here’s one of the KCNA images.
Four remaining members of the Japanese Red Army Faction terrorist group living on the outskirts of Pyongyang might not be enjoying as free a lifestyle as recently portrayed.
The four are the last members of a group of nine who hijacked JAL351, a Boeing 727, on March 31, 1970, and eventually took the aircraft to Pyongyang. They have been living in the so-called “Japanese village” since then.
Earlier in May, Japan’s Kyodo News published photographs of the village taken by journalist Reinin Shiino, who visited the area on the banks of the Taedong river in late April, according to the news agency.
One of the photographs shows group member Moriaki Wakabayashi accessing a computer. Another image shows three satellite dishes in the garden near one of the houses.
NASA’s Aqua satellite has captured a stunning image showing a number of large fires burning across North Korea earlier this week.
The image, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite, clearly shows large plumes of smoke from the fires, which are concentrated across the east and central parts of the DPRK. Also visible are the fires themselves, which are highlighted in red after being detected with the satellite’s thermal imager. More >
Most people who read this blog will be familiar with the image of the two Koreas at nighttime by a NASA satellite
On January 30, 2014, an astronaut on the International Space Station used a Nikon D3S camera to capture a new image of the Korean peninsula at 10:16 pm — one that’s even more dramatic than the monochrome NASA satellite image of old.
As NASA says, “The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its capital city, Pyongyang, appears like a small island, despite a population of 3.26 million (as of 2008). The light emission from Pyongyang is equivalent to the smaller towns in South Korea.”
“Coastlines are often very apparent in night imagery, as shown by South Korea’s eastern shoreline. But the coast of North Korea is difficult to detect. These differences are illustrated in per capita power consumption in the two countries, with South Korea at 10,162 kilowatt hours and North Korea at 739 kilowatt hours.” More >
Driving up South Korea’s “freedom highway” north of Seoul, just after the turn off for the National Defense University, observant travelers will notice a collection of transmitter masts off to the right of the highway.
At first glance, the site looks like it might belong to a major broadcaster like KBS, but the truth appears to be much more interesting.
Seeing inside the site is impossible from the highway, but a neighboring hill provides a good outlook, as shown below.
The site contains 16 transmitter masts, all but one of which are contained in a large field. A single mast sits in the middle of neighboring greenhouses.
On the north side of the facility (the left side of this picture) are a series of buildings. These almost certainly house the transmitters that produce the signals that are piped to the masts.
As can be seen in the above picture, the site is surrounded by a high fence topped with barbed wire. There’s also a guard post at the edge of the facility where the road enters. The road itself contains barriers placed to slow approaching traffic and notices to motorists.
The fences, guard posts and road blocks all point to the facility being somewhat sensitive. The main KBS shortwave transmitter site at Gimjae in the south of the country doesn’t have the same level of security. Neither does an MBC transmission facility a little further north along the highway.
The sensitivity of the site is confirmed with a check of satellite pictures of the field.
Here’s how it looks on Google Maps:
The transmitter masts and buildings can be easily seen.
And here’s the same field on Daum Maps:
The image on Daum, a South Korean portal, has been altered so that none of the transmitter masts or buildings appear. It hasn’t been done perfectly — a few of the shadows cast by the masts can be seen — but it’s a pretty effective effort at removing any details of the facility.
South Korea routinely edits satellite pictures of military installations just as it restricts digital maps of areas near the border, so this is pretty close to confirmation that the radio facility is a sensitive government facility.
But what is it used for?
For the answer to that, a radio provides a clue.
Among the roughly dozen shortwave radio stations that broadcast to North Korea, there are two that don’t have websites, they don’t have listings and can’t be found in official literature.
“Voice of the People” and “Echo of Hope” have been on the air for years, broadcasting an anti-regime program that goes further than other stations in attacking the North Korean government and leadership.
Both stations have long been assumed to be run by the National Intelligence Service and are heavily jammed by North Korea.
The North Korean jamming, which involves broadcasting a very powerful noise signal on the same frequency, makes the South Korean stations difficult to receive. It’s is so powerful that it even overrides their signal on radios in Seoul, across the sea in Japan and even in the United States.
But close to this mystery transmitter site, the North Korean jamming signal cannot be heard over “Voice of the People.” The signal of the South Korean station is strong and clear. It’s so strong, it overloaded my radio:
In comparison, here’s what it typically sounds like anywhere away from this location. The following file was recorded in Seoul.
The conclusion? The transmitter site is almost certainly the base from which the South Korean government broadcasts the “Voice of the People” propaganda station towards North Korea.
It’s worth noting “Echo of Hope,” the second propaganda station, was received poorly at this location. That means that it probably comes from a different site.
Korean Central Television, the DPRK’s main nationwide TV channel, appears to have received another technology upgrade.
New satellite images uploaded to Google Earth show four satellite dishes on the roof of a building at the TV and radio broadcasting center. They weren’t there a few months ago.
It’s interesting because previously the TV and radio broadcasting center didn’t appear to have any link with the rest of the world. At least, nothing direct it controlled. It’s quite possible that signals from overseas were downlinked somewhere else and supplied over cable to the building.
Here’s the building as shown in a Google image from February 22 and, on the right, the same building on October 13, 2012.
In March last year the main 8pm evening news got a facelift with the use of computerized backdrops behind the presenters. For years, the evening news had used a basic backdrop of either a wooden wall or a painting of Pyongyang, so the computerized backdrops were a big change.
It’s impossible to tell what the dishes are pointed at — the pictures aren’t high enough resolution, they’re not from directly above and satellites are too closely positioned — but as an educated guess they could easily be pulling in the main Chinese, Japanese and South Korean channels. One might also be used to monitor KCTV’s output on the Thaicom-5 satellite or receive footage from the APTN or Reuters TV wire services.