Researchers with the Dartmouth Flood Observatoryat Dartmouth College have been working with state and federalofficials, along with representatives from NGOs, to help map andanalyze the flooding that has occurred as a result of HurricaneKatrina. The maps not only provide an overview of the impact andenormity of the flooding, they also preserve a day-to-day record ofthis flood to be analyzed in the coming months. The images will also bearchived to support research into global flooding trends and climatechange.
The DFO's director, G. Robert Brakenridge, says that thepartnerships between organizations have been vital to quicklyassembling maps that illustrate current flooding and outline otherareas for potential flood activity. The DFO was the first to publish onthe Internet, on August 31, regional detailed maps of the floodinundation. Some of the DFO's maps are used by media.
Brakenridge, a research associate professor of geographyat Dartmouth, explains that high-resolution data is not needed forinitial mapping efforts. In fact, to obtain high-resolution data ofspecific sites, satellites require some lead time to orbit to reach thepart of the Earth that's involved. Using NASA's MODIS (ModerateResolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) equipped satellites, the DFOreceives images quickly.
Brakenridge says, "MODISdoesn't provide high spatial-resolution imagery. Each image pixelrepresents about 250 meters. We can't see individual houses or roads,but the entire Earth is covered, twice per day. The sensors are alwayson, and always downloading the image data, so we can obtain decentquality imaging of flood water quickly. That is important. MODIS wasnot planned at all for its use in natural disasters, but it has provenits utility time and time again."
Brakenridgeparticipates in a daily teleconference with various officialsrepresenting FEMA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army and theArmy Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, andthe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to name a few. On thetable for discussion is coordination between the agencies;dissemination of aerial, satellite and field-based data; and avoidingduplication of efforts. This daily exchange of information speeds themap making and map distribution processes. Another helpful asset is theInternational Charter for Space and Major Disasters. Satellite datafrom other countries, such as from the French SPOT satellite, was madeavailable to US disaster response organizations, including the DFO, andin agreement with a memorandum of understanding signed by most of theworld's space agencies.
"University and collegeresearch groups, like the DFO, can help improve society's response tonatural disasters," says Brakenridge. "We can sometimes be much morenimble than large federal agencies in using satellite data in new ways,and we can more quickly produce inundation maps that might be useful toemergency response personnel."
Brakenridge and histeam have distributed similar maps during other flooding events, suchas during the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004, and duringthe flooding in the Dominican Republic in May 2004. Maps, floodarchives and more information available at the DFO's website.
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