NOAA, University of New Orleans Researchers Analyzing NASA Photos

Hurricane GeorgesWashington, January 7, 1999 — Scientists studying the aftermath of Hurricane Georges on coastal areas and other wetlands losses in Louisiana are now able to use NASA images obtained with NOAA's guidance to help understand where sand moved and how vegetation was impacted by salt water on two Louisiana coastal barrier islands and the Atchafalaya River Delta. Images of the Chandeleur Island chain are of particular interest to scientists because of the severe damage inflicted by Hurricane Georges in October of last year.

The images were gathered by the AirborneVisible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS), an instrument that was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The instrument measures 224 spectral channels, which can give scientists a highly detailed look at what is happening on the surface in ways that are invisible to the naked eye. A NOAA Corps flight crew and aircraft flew the instrument over the Chandeleur Island chain in late October.

Hurricane Georges Damage"The damage from Hurricane Georges on the Chandeleurs was as bad as that of Hurricane Camille almost 30 years ago," said Dr. Shea Penland, a scientist at the University of New Orleans. "Having the chance to use imagery from the AVIRIS scanner gives us a great opportunity to understand the full extent of the hurricane's damage and look at ways to deal with the damage. The AVIRIS data are so rich in imagery and the resolution is so good that we have for the first time the ability to completely characterize the land cover on Louisiana s barrier islands."

"Imaging spectroscopy is a technique that represents a fundamentally new way of doing remote-sensing," said Robert Green, the AVIRIS experiment scientist at JPL. "We are measuring in detail how light is absorbed or reflected by various materials on the Earth's surface and that gives us an accurate picture of what those materials on the ground are made of and how the surface is changing."

NOAA and University scientists believe they will be able to use the imagery to study Louisiana's coastal wetlands, such as the Chandeleurs, to gain a much better understanding how they function and react to outside forces such as storms. People who live on or near the Louisiana bayous protected by these barrier islands, along with those who make their living from the bountiful natural resources of the Mississippi delta, will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the information that is expected to be gained from this extensive data set.

"Normally, AVIRIS is flown by NASA at an altitude of 20 kilometers (~70,000 feet) to acquire images," said Commander Grady Tuell, Project Manager of the Remote Sensing Division of NOAA's National Geodetic Survey. "However, both NOAA and NASA felt the instrument could be a very important diagnostic tool if flown at low altitudes and over areas such as the Chandeleurs. At 10,000 feet, the resolution is very high."

AVIRIS imagery obtained of the Atchafalaya Delta depict a large tract of newly created wetlands from the recently completed Big Island/Atchafalaya Sediment Delivery Projects. The projects were built with funding from the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection, and Restoration Act (The Breaux Act). The two projects created over 900 acres of new wetlands in the Atchafalaya Delta. These are important habitat for marine fisheries and migratory waterfowl.

"We see AVIRIS as a tremendous new tool for evaluating the results of our restoration projects," said Rolland Schmitten, director of NOAA Fisheries, the federal marine fisheries agency responsible for protecting and maintaining marine resources.

The AVIRIS imagery will also be offered to other scientists conducting coastal habitat research on a wide variety of issues, including marine fish habitat conservation and coastal wetlands restoration. The University will receive the AVIRIS imagery from NOAA and JPL and will serve as a technical information center in the analysis of the storms' impact on the Chandeleur Island chain using the data from the scanner. The public can view some of the imagery on the Internet at: (Click on AVIRIS Low Altitude Deployment and look for images of Chandeleur, Timbalier, and Atchafalaya Bay on the Quicklook Index.)

"It is a wonderful opportunity for the University of New Orleans to be able to acquire this world class high technology system that will enable our university researchers to partner with national scientists at NOAA and JPL and other environmental experts to study Louisiana's coastal islands and wetlands," said University of New Orleans Chancellor Gregory O'Brien. "In cooperation with other university and community partners, this unique collaborative effort will ultimately help us to protect and ensure the viability of our priceless natural resources by dealing with the ravaging effects of natural disasters."


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