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Data Series 281

Satellite Images and Aerial Photographs of the Effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Coastal Louisiana

By John A. Barras

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the eastern coastline of Louisiana on August 29, 2005; Hurricane Rita made landfall on the western coastline of Louisiana on September 24, 2005. Comparison of Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) satellite imagery acquired before and after the landfalls of Katrina and Rita and classified to identify land and water demonstrated that water area increased by 217 mi2 (562 km2) in coastal Louisiana as a result of the storms. Approximately 82 mi2 (212 km2) of new water areas were in areas primarily impacted by Hurricane Katrina (Mississippi River Delta basin, Breton Sound basin, Pontchartrain basin, and Pearl River basin), whereas 99 mi2 (256 km2) were in areas primarily impacted by Hurricane Rita (Calcasieu/Sabine basin, Mermentau basin, Teche/Vermilion basin, Atchafalaya basin, and Terrebonne basin). Barataria basin contained new water areas caused by both hurricanes, resulting in some 18 mi2 (46.6 km2) of new water areas. The fresh marsh and intermediate marsh communities’ land areas decreased by 122 mi2 (316 km2) and 90 mi2 (233.1 km2), respectively, and the brackish marsh and saline marsh communities’ land areas decreased by 33 mi2 (85.5 km2) and 28 mi2 (72.5 km2), respectively.

These new water areas represent land losses caused by direct removal of wetlands. They also indicate transitory changes in water area caused by remnant flooding, removal of aquatic vegetation, scouring of marsh vegetation, and water-level variation attributed to normal tidal and meteorological variation between satellite images.

Permanent losses cannot be estimated until several growing seasons have passed and the transitory impacts of the hurricanes are minimized. The purpose of this study was to provide preliminary information on water area changes in coastal Louisiana acquired shortly after the landfalls of both hurricanes (detectable with Landsat TM imagery) and to serve as a regional baseline for monitoring posthurricane wetland recovery. The land-water datasets derived from the Landsat TM satellite imagery were combined with 2001 marsh vegetative communities (Chabreck and others, unpub. data, 2001) to identify land-water configurations by marsh community before and after the hurricanes.

Links to the Landsat TM images and aerial photographs are given below (figs. 1–29). Comparison of land area before the storms to land area after the storms is made possible by the inclusion of Landsat TM images and aerial photographs taken in the years and months before the storms. The figures are arranged geographically from east to west to follow the chronology of the effects of the storms. For a more detailed analysis of the changes wrought by these storms, see “Land Area Changes in Coastal Louisiana After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita” (Barras, in press).

Reference Cited
Barras, J.A., in press, Land area changes in coastal Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in Farris, G.S., Smith, G.J., Crane, M.P., Demas, C.R., Robbins, L.L., and Lavoie, D.L., eds., Science and the storms—The USGS response to the hurricanes of 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1306.

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