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Mapping a Hurricane

Mapping a Hurricane

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, September 5, 2019/Categories: natural history, photography, space science, sustainability, environment, adventure , climate change

                  Bahamas Map (flooded, light blue) & Vegetation (green) Hurricane Dorian, 9-2-2019 (credit: NASA/JPL/ESA)

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California used orbiting satellites to develop precise maps of Hurricane Dorian. According to the LAB, as Dorian moved across the Bahamas the Sentinel-1 captured raw data and imagery of the hurricane. In collaboration with their partners at the European Space Agency (ESA), the satellite data was used to create a large-scale map of the Bahamas covering 109 miles by 106 miles in area. The large scale map was made available to first responders to help them identify flooded areas (light-blue) and vegetation (green) for rescue and recovery efforts on the devastated islands.

Another space technology is helping produce a better understanding of the massive hurricane, Cubesats. These breadbox-sized micro-satellites are one of JPL's newest, and still experimental, technologies. First developed by graduate students at CalTech, built with 'off the shelf' parts purchased at any Home Depot or Lowes outlet, the tiny satellites were first tested in 2018 during the descent of NASA's Mars InSight lander. They performed flawlessly tracking InSight's descent to the Martian surface. Cubesats can be built for less than $1000 making them exceptionally inexpensive in comparison to traditional satellites. A Cubesat carries an environmental sensor to perform a specific measurement task. The TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration) Cubesat tracked Dorian's rain bands shown as the super-storm approached Florida. The four colored layers show where the strongest storms, inside the hurricane, are pushing high into the atmosphere. Pink, red, and yellow zones indicate areas of heaviest rainfall and are presented in a 3D animation of the cloud-carrying moisture data as the hurricane approached Florida.

 

                   TEMPEST-D Cubesat map of Hurricane Dorian in 3D, 9-3-2019 (credit: NASA/Caltech/JPL)

The application of Cubesat technology has worked so well in tests demonstrations, that it will likely become a standard 'go to' sensor for future environmental surveys. They could become 'workhorses' for global storm coverage and forecasting.

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