June 12, 2000 BATON ROUGE -- LSU's Earth Scan Laboratory, the facility that uses satellite imagery to track hurricanes, will soon have a better view of the earth than ever before.
A near million-dollar grant from the Louisiana Technological Innovation Fund will provide the lab with a new X-band satellite-data receiver system that will show such detail that researchers will be able to see a specific house or tree. The all-weather, day-and-night radars will be particularly useful for damage assessment during or after a hurricane.
LSU's current technology allows scientists to see outlines of land and water masses but is not capable of zeroing in on structures smaller than seven-tenths of a mile in diameter.
The new technology will enable LSU to access environmental data broadcast from dozens of existing and planned remote-sensing satellites that orbit the earth. The information will give scientists a better view of Louisiana's cities, levees and ships. A broken levee, a leaking crude-oil tanker or a forest fire are just some of the things the new equipment would be able to identify. Such information could provide warnings, explanations or solutions to problems that might otherwise be difficult to pinpoint.
The new equipment will supplement the existing technology at the Earth Scan Lab, which is particularly known for its ability to track hurricanes. LSU's satellite information is updated at least every 30 minutes, while information gathered by the National Weather Service is updated every six hours. According to Earth Scan Lab director and LSU professor Oscar Huh, the National Weather Service does the hurricane forecasting for the U.S., but the Earth Scan Lab and LSU researchers are able to offer a valuable second opinion. Therefore, researchers at the lab are called upon to advise state offices if a hurricane is bearing down on Louisiana.
"We work side by side with decision makers," Huh said. "The most exciting thing of all is that we can assist the Office of Emergency Preparedness. This is a classic case where a research and educational facility makes a direct contribution to the people of this state."
Huh also said the benefit of having the lab at LSU is that Louisiana is the lab's first priority.
"The National Weather Service serves the whole country," Huh said. "But here at the Earth Scan Lab we can focus on Louisiana and put our state first. There's a long tradition of hurricane research here at LSU because Louisiana is so vulnerable."
Huh said that along with the researchers, graduate and undergraduate students work in the Earth Scan Lab. The students go through a rigorous three-month training program, providing a background in meteorology, oceanography, geography, digital-image processing and satellite operations.
"I'm hugely proud of them," Huh said of his students. "In the past, they have distinguished themselves by operating this equipment in real pressure situations."
But the new X-band equipment will not only benefit Louisiana. It will also provide satellite data for most of North America. Huh said there are only about 300 other facilities in the world with the same capabilities as LSU's Earth Scan Lab, and Huh said those labs -- located at various universities, companies and government facilities -- often work together to share information and train lab technicians. Huh said LSU was among the first of such facilities when he purchased equipment for the lab in 1988 with the help of a Louisiana Board of Regents 8g grant.
The satellite receivers at the LSU lab are high-capacity communication links to U.S. environmental satellites, bringing to earth the data that they collect. The X-band receiver that will be purchased with the $970,000-plus grant gathers information broadcast via the "X" band portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The equipment will include a 15-foot tracking antenna, an 18-foot in diameter radome, radio receiving equipment, computers and a massive data-storage facility. The facility will be located in the Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex.
Huh said the different types of equipment at the Earth Scan Lab use different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum to gather a variety of data about the earth, sea and sky. By combining these technologies, scientists at the Earth Scan Lab can create multi-faceted maps of the earth. The combination of satellites and radar imagery will enable scientists to detect atmospheric pollution, wild fires, sea states, soil moisture, plant canopy conditions, ocean color, ocean temperatures and a number of other air and sea phenomena. Such information can benefit the fields of meteorology, geography, oceanography, agriculture and petroleum engineering.
The type of technology LSU has at the Earth Scan Lab has only been available for about a decade, Huh said.
"It's quite an industry, and it's growing," Huh said of the satellite technology. "It's exciting to be in this business now that costs are down and the technology is so advanced."
Huh said the SeaSpace Corporation of San Diego, LSU's prime contractor for 13 years, is also a leading contender for the X-band contract.
For more information on the Earth Scan Laboratory, check the lab's Web site at http://www.esl.lsu.edu.
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