NASA Helped to Keep Soldiers Safe During Hurricane Florence

Black Marble imagery before the lights went out in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Credits: NASA
Black Marble imagery after the lights went out in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Credits: NASA

Soldiers in Fort Bragg found [NASA’s Black Marble product] useful for locating power outages on the army base. “And soldiers could see any information they needed right from their cell phones…

In September, Hurricane Florence barreled toward the U.S. East Coast bringing powerful wind, rain and catastrophic flooding that devastated cities, towns, and military bases. The U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg, just west of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was one of the hardest-hit areas. During the storm, soldiers at Fort Bragg used NASA’s Disasters Mapping Portal to identify hazardous areas and to assess power outages and residential flooding.

“The Disasters GIS [Geographic Information System] portal was a very effective way to display and disseminate information for those living in an area that was facing a major disaster,” said Chief Jason Feser of the Army Geospatial Center.

The NASA Disasters Mapping Portal hosts collective geospatial data from NASA scientists to hand off through GIS-based tools to emergency managers, first responders, and the public before, during, and after a disaster in a specific location. The use of GIS allows the Disasters Program to provide free and publicly available scientific data in a more user-friendly environment, thus bridging the gap between science and application. Emergency managers are also able to bring in NASA data and combine it with their own national, state, or local datasets to gain a better understanding of potential hazards and inform disaster response.

“The Disasters Portal allows everyone to focus on what they do best,” said Jeremy Kirkendall, NASA Disasters Mapping Portal lead. “NASA’s scientists create the products, we host them, and other agencies can easily find them in a ready-to-use format.”

Among the products Fort Bragg personnel used was NASA’s Black Marble product. Using nighttime imagery from NASA’s Suomi satellite, NASA’s Black Marble provides important information for pre-event and post-event mapping and monitoring of power outages. Black Marble has been used to assess disruptions in energy infrastructure and utility services following major disasters. Soldiers in Fort Bragg found it useful for locating power outages on the army base. “And soldiers could see any information they needed right from their cell phones,” Feser said.

The NASA Disasters Program began coordinating efforts prior to September 11, 2018, before Hurricane Florence’s landfall, and continued monitoring the disaster after the storm made landfall on September 14, 2018. Aside from the U.S. Army, the NASA Disasters program engaged with partners and stakeholders such as FEMA, National Guard Bureau, NOAA, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Department of Interior.

To learn more about the Disasters Program please visit: to learn more about the Disasters Portal please visit:

To view Black Marble imagery from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the Disasters GIS Portal please visit:

NASA Is Monitoring California Wildfires From Space

November’s California wildfires, including the Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles and the Camp Fire in Northern California, are now one of the most destructive and deadliest in the state’s history. NASA satellites are observing these fires – and the damage they’re leaving behind – from space.

Credits: NASA

The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, produced new damage maps using synthetic aperture radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites. The first map shows areas likely damaged by the Woolsey Fire as of Sunday, Nov. 11. These maps are provided to various agencies to aid in disaster response. It covers an area of about 50 miles by 25 miles (80 kilometers by 40 kilometers) – framed by the red polygon. The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasing ground surface change, or damage. This ARIA damage proxy map was provided to agencies like FEMA, the California National Guard, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, San Jose Water, California Earthquake Clearinghouse and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to provide an overall damage assessment in the state.

NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) distributes near real-time (NRT) active fire data within 3 hours of a satellite overpass from both the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Natural resource managers need to know where a fire is quickly to be able to prepare for and respond to a wildfire event. NASA FIRMS NRT helps to visualize the location of a fire in a timely manner for individuals like Natural Resource Managers or others who are directly impacted by wildfires.

NASA Tracking Florence From Every Angle and Wavelength

The VIIRS instrument on the joint NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite observed Hurricane Florence as it developed in the Atlantic Ocean and made landfall in North Carolina on Sept. 14, 2018. Credits: NASA Worldview

NASA has been tracking Florence since it began moving toward the East Coast of the United States and continued to monitor the storm as it inched across the Carolinas and farther inland. The space agency’s Earth Science Disasters Program is sparing no available resource in working to keep disaster responders and agencies such as FEMA and the National Guard informed with the latest information to assist in decisions on everything from evacuations to supply routes and recovery estimates. Products can be found on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the ways NASA has been monitoring the storm and its repercussions:


LANCE imagery of water vapor, precipitation, and wind speed in Hurricane Florence from Sept. 15, 2018, viewed in NASA Worldview. Credits: NASA

NASA’s Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (Earth Observing System) (LANCE) provides data and imagery from Terra, Aqua, Aura, Suomi NPP, and GCOM-W1 satellites in less than three hours from satellite observation to meet the needs of the near real-time applications community. LANCE leverages existing satellite data processing systems in order to provide such products from select EOS instruments. These data meet the timely needs of applications such as numerical weather and climate prediction, forecasting and monitoring natural hazards, agriculture, air quality, and disaster relief.


These images, derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency, were taken before Florence, on September 02, 2016, and 12 hours after the storm’s landfall at 7:06 PM local time on September 14, 2018. Credits: NASA

The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created a flood extent map from Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar data acquired 12 hours after Hurricane Florence made landfall. The map, which was pushed to FEMA’s SFTP server (and is available to download), depicts areas of the Carolinas in light blue pixels that are likely flooded.

Media reports provided anecdotal preliminary validation. This map was cross-validated with ARIA’s earlier flood proxy map. This flood proxy map should be used as guidance to identify areas that are likely flooded, and may be less reliable over urban and vegetated areas.

To overcome that limitation, NASA’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument aboard NASA’s C-20A aircraft is slated to fly over flooded areas to validate and improve these maps as well as provide near real-time imagery to assist local, state and federal partners.

For example, barrier islands and the immediate coastlines have borne the brunt of the storm surge and wind damage, resulting in the destruction of property along the coastline. UAVSAR imagery will help to clarify areas that have been impacted. Rapid acquisition of UAVSAR imagery revealing damaged homes and infrastructure provides higher spatial resolution details to complement “damage proxy maps” and other change detection approaches applied from routinely collected imagery or special collections from international partners.


This pre-Florence image in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, is based on composite Black Marble images gathered between August 10 and Sep 11, 2018. The image shows areas in high-light condition in red, while areas in low-light condition are in black. The Black Marble Level 3 and HD data are continuously being produced and delivered for the latest day available. Credits: NASA

The Day/Night Band sensor of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the Suomi-National Polar-orbiting Partnership and Joint Polar Satellite System satellite platforms (both NOAA partnerships) provide global daily measurements of nocturnal visible and near-infrared light. The VIIRS Black Marble product suite detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared, including city lights and lights from other activity.

On September 14, 2018 North Carolina officials said the number of power outages due to Florence was more than half a million. The NASA Black Marble product suite has been used to assess disruptions in energy infrastructure and utility services following major disasters. The night-time imageries are useful for pre-event and post-event mapping and monitoring of power outages in cloud-free conditions.


NASA relies heavily on its fleet of Earth-orbiting satellites as well as satellites from partner institutions for data that feeds into critical weather and climate models. Below is a summary of a few of those assets:


This image, taken at 1:35pm EDT on Tuesday, September 11, 2018, by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows Hurricane Florence, which, at the time, had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (225 kph). Credits: NASA

Aboard the Aqua satellite, the agency’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU),  was able to capture three-dimensional images of the storm’s approach by sensing emitted microwave and infrared radiation. Warm colors in the infrared image (red, orange, yellow) show areas with little cloud cover, while cold colors (blue, purple) show areas covered by clouds at high, cold altitudes. The darker the color, the colder and higher the clouds and the stronger the thunderstorms. In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these atmospheric observations are assimilated into operational prediction centers around the world to improve hurricane path prediction and other forecasts.


This natural-color image shows Hurricane Florence as captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Aqua satellite on Sept. 11, 2018. The second image, acquired by the CloudSat satellite on the same day, shows a cross-section of how the storm would look if it had been sliced near the middle and viewed from the side. Credits: NASA

Another powerful instrument aboard the Aqua satellite (the same instrument is also aboard Aqua’s “twin” satellite, Terra) is the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). Aqua and Terra work in tandem to image the entire globe once every one to two days, which allows MODIS to capture a sweeping picture of any number of Earth dynamics, including storms, through its 36 spectral bands, or groups of wavelengths.

Here, a MODIS image of Florence is shown with a cross-section of the storm taken on the same day by NASA’s Cloudsat satellite. The CloudSat pass offers a unique view of Florence’s asymmetrical structure, the intense convection and rainfall churning inside the storm, and a complex vertical cloud structure that is not visible from above. The storm’s clouds reached an altitude of about 15 kilometers (9 miles) at their highest point—fairly high for a tropical cyclone. The darkest blues represent areas where clouds and raindrops reflected the strongest signal back to the satellite radar. These areas had the heaviest precipitation and the largest water droplets. The blue horizontal line across the data is the melting level; ice particles were present above it, raindrops below it.


NASA’s Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) passed over Hurricane Florence as it approached the eastern coast of the United States on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Credits: NASA

Global multi-angle imagery of the sunlit Earth is the specialty of the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. The  instrument takes seven minutes to capture images from all nine of its cameras to observe the same location. MISR can reveal areas of high cloud cover associated with strong thunderstorms as well as spot powerful outer rain bands, which can sometimes spawn tornadoes.


SMAP wind estimates over Hurricane Florence on Sept. 12, 2018 at 10:49 UTC and on Sept. 13, 2018 at 11:25 UTC. Credits: NASA

Managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and in coordination with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the polar-orbiting Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite plays a key role in forecasting flooding conditions. SMAP measures the amount of water in the top 5 centimeters (2 inches) of soil everywhere on Earth’s surface every 2 to 3 days. This permits changes of soil moisture around the world to be observed over time scales ranging from the life cycles of major storms to repeated measurements of changes over entire seasons. SMAP is also capable of estimating wind speeds over the ocean, as shown in the image above.


An astronaut’s photograph of Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station on Sept. 12, 2018, as it was then situated about 600 miles from Southeast U.S. coastline. Credits: NASA

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been snapping images of Florence with handheld digital cameras throughout the storm’s progression. Once the storm has passed and cloud cover lessens, requests to document flooding and changes to the land surface will be sent to the crew as part of ongoing NASA ISS response to the International Disaster Charter activation for Hurricane Florence. Imagery of this type is then georeferenced by the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Also aboard the ISS is the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), which detects the distribution and variability of total lightning day and night in order to improve severe weather forecasting and further scientific study on the relationship between lightning, clouds, and precipitation. Over a 12-hour period, LIS observed an average of more than 5 lightning flashes every 90 seconds in the vicinity of Hurricane Florence on September 14, 2018.

NASA Keeps a Vigilant Eye on Hurricane Florence

On Sept. 7, NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement, or GPM, core observatory satellite flew over Hurricane Florence, capturing a 3D image as the storm’s clouds started to break apart before reforming. Credits: NASA

NASA’s Earth Science Disaster Program is using the vantage point of space to provide important information to disaster responders before and after Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas.

Before the storm makes landfall, the space agency is utilizing data from satellites, such as Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) to home in on areas that are saturated with water and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) to track rainfall rates across the body of the storm, in order to help determine which areas are at greater risk for flooding. The potential for landslides is also evaluated by looking at those factors in addition to land topography.

The crew aboard the International Space Station stared down the menacing eye of what was then Category 4 Hurricane Florence on Sept. 12 as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean and toward the East Coast of the United States. Credits: NASA

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are also taking advantage of their one-of-a-kind vantage point a few hundred miles above Earth as they snap photos of the hurricane with handheld digital cameras. These wide-field, panoramic images help inform the size, scale, and location of the storm based on the ISS orbital ground track location, and multiple images taken over time relays important data on its evolution and life cycle.

As the storm hits the coasts and marches inland, NASA’s continually updated flood extent maps, derived from radar-based satellites that can “see through” clouds, will identify inundated areas, and the latest in flood modeling will anticipate for decision makers where flooding may occur next. This information is important for a number of decisions pertaining to evacuation routes, supply chains, and resource and relief allocation.

To provide situational awareness for first responders and other government authorities, in the storm’s aftermath NASA will maintain flood extent maps drawn from data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites as well as the Landsat satellite, a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Composite image of the continental U.S. at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Another tool in the recovery effort is NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Black Marble product suite, which can report daily on whether the power is on over over large swaths of land. Such information is important for understanding the extent of the damage, especially in remote and isolated areas that might not have robust communications systems in place. The technology was demonstrated during the response and recovery efforts following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, as it helped local communities strengthen their resilience by identifying preexisting infrastructure vulnerabilities across the island’s housing, transportation, and energy sectors.

Click here to watch NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and NASA Disasters Program Manager David Green discuss how the space agency is assisting federal and state partners in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Florence.

NASA Tracks Lava from Kilauea Volcano

At 10:41 a.m. local time (20:41 Universal Time) on May 14, 2018, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a natural-color image of the volcano. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

NASA is tracking lava flows from Hawaii Island’s Kilauea volcano as fissures erupt and lava makes its way to the ocean.

Using data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer, or VIIRS, instrument aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, NASA’s Disaster Program has been tracking thermal anomalies, or hot spots, indicative of lava flow. VIIRS is the only instrument from space that can track lava flows through hot spots, making it an important additional source of information for the U.S. Geological Survey as it monitors and informs the public of the ongoing volcanic activity, which has produced everything from earthquakes and giant rock projectiles from eruptions to blankets of ash clouds and volcanic smog, or vog.

Credit: NASA

For example, VIIRS captured the above enhanced nighttime image on May 14, 2018, superimposed with hot spots highlighted in red. Multiple hot spots were observed on this satellite overpass near the southeast tip of Hawaii Island. Kilauea volcano is represented by the hot spot to the west.

Credit: NASA

Zooming in over this area shows that those hot spots were located farther east from Leilani area and were consistent with new fissures observed on the ground.

Credit: NASA

This VIIRS image from May 22, 2018, shows the extension of the hot spots toward the ocean, indicating that lava is moving toward and warming the ocean upon contact.

In addition to VIIRS, NASA provides other information on volcanic activity, including aerosol and sulfur dioxide measurements derived from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard NASA’s Aura satellite as well as the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite aboard NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, and ground deformation and movement with synthetic aperture radar data.

NASA also organized a field mission with airborne radar to provide accurate digital elevation maps that USGS can use to predict lava path flows. Flown on the G-III research aircraft, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) instrument is detecting changes in Kilauea’s topography associated with the new lava flows, with the goal of measuring the erupted volume as a function of time and ultimately the total volume of the event.