Research at the Earth Scan Laboratory

ESL professors, staff, and students have partnered with researchers across scientific disciplines and the world in order to gain a broader view of oceanic, atmospheric and coastal processes around the world. Our data and experienced personel have contributed to studies relative to tropical cyclones, oceanic currents, hypoxia formation, and much more. Below you can find some of our past and current research endeavors.

Publications from the Earth Scan Lab

Animation of sea surface temperatures throughout 2011
2005 Storm Induced Ocean Cooling


The Earth Scan Laboratory participates in the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) by providing 1 kilometer sea surface temperature (SST) quick-look images and HDFs via our image archive. GCOOS is the Gulf of Mexico component of NOAA's Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS).
The ESL captures data from all of NOAA's active POES series satellites equipped with the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). SST is calculated for every satellite pass captured using the standard MCSST algorithm. Individual as well as nightly, 3 night, 7 night, 15 night, and 30 night composite images and HDFs are available daily. 

Loop Current and Eddy Circulation Studies

The Gulf Loop Current is one of the most dynamic ocean currents in the world. Frontal eddy cyclones are regions of vigorous upwelling that develop along the Loop Current's margin in association with current meanders. The Loop Current and its eddies are large reservoirs of heat that have the capability to intensify hurricanes and tropical storms crossing the Gulf. Our sea surface temperature cloud removal algortihm enables us to track and study rapidly moving (35 km/day) frontal eddy cyclones around the margin of the Loop Current. This capability proved essential in our research on the fate of surface oil during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Our funding for this research comes mainly from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and BP.

Louisiana Coastal Surveillance

Mississippi River Diversions are an important component of coastal restoration efforts. Diversions introduce freshwater, sediment, and nutrients to the coast that are crucial for combating saltwater intrusion, marsh deterioration and land-loss. At the ESL, image products have been developed which enable real-time and long-term surveillance of environmental parameters including sea surface temperature, suspended sediments, water mass color/type, and chlorophyll a estimates. River water can be detected in our imagery as it is relatively low in temperature and sediment-rich. Algal blooms typically develop from the introduction of river borne nutrients. Please note that the chlorophyll a imagery has not been validated with field data and the values are affected by high concentrations of pigments and sediments.

High Resolution Coastal Flood Mapping

Hurricane-induced storm surges, waves, and rain can all contribute to widespread coastal flooding, particularly in low relief areas such as southeast Louisiana. The Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) on the Radarsat-1 provides a powerful source of data for mapping flooding as it is unaffected by cloud cover and usable both day and night. In 2003, we began collaborating with researchers at NOAA NESDIS, Camp Springs, MD. (through the ADRO II project) and gained access to many SAR images of coastal Louisiana during the two week episode when Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili impacted coastal Louisiana's water levels. More recently, SAR imagery and SPOT multi-spectral imagery were employed in the study of coastal flooding from Hurricane Katrina. Our initial results have been published (Kiage et al., 2005). Funding for this research has been provided mainly by the Louisiana Board of Regents.

Hurricane Research

Real-time access to satellite measurements has enhanced LSU faculty research on hurricane processes, prediction, and coastal impacts. This capability has allowed researchers to estimate the radius of maximum winds using satellite measurements from the eye, a measure that can be used to estimate winds, waves, and storm surges. Researchers have also been able to investigate the effects of dry atmospheric masses, cool water upwellings and high, warm current circulations on storm track and intensity changes. One study of oceanic and mid to upper-level winds during Ivan, Katrina, and Rita demonstrated that Katrina's and Rita's rapid intensifications over Loop Current waters in the Gulf was made possible by favorable upper level easterly winds. Details of Ivans' impact on coastal shelf/slope circulation and on beach morphology changes were also assessed and enhanced by real-time satellite data. Using higher resolution images from Radarat-1 SAR and SPOT we have also developed techniques for detecting and quantifying hurricane-related flooding and impacts along the coast, within impacted marshlands, and urban areas.

Deepwater Horizon Surface Oil Research

On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig experienced a series of malfunctions and subsequent explosions that disengaged the rig from its drill and killed eleven workers onboard. The explosion damaged the wellhead 5,000 feet below the surface, and crude oil flowed from the damaged wellhead until a containment cap was put in place on July 15, 2010.
The Earth Scan Laboratory tracked surface oil with a variety satellite sensors. The image to the right is a combination of three satellite images captured around June 14, 2010: calculated sea surface temperatures with high resolution microwave imagery superimposed. Our research of the event led to collaborations and publications on the oceanographic factors relevant to surface oil fate as well as exposure effects for Gulf fishes.

Observations and Modeling to Advance a Louisiana Coastal Circulation and Oil Spill Prediction System

The BP Gulf Research Initiative is a collaboration between faculty and staff of LSU's School of the Coast and Environment, LSU Center for Computation and Technology (CCT) and the Naval Research Laboratory, Stennis (NRL) tasked with enhancing the state of Louisiana's ability to observe and model near-coastal circulation along the Louisiana coast for use within the state's broader oil spill prediction system. The project is comprised of four main components:
  1. Simulation modeling  will couple Finite Volume Coastal Ocean Module (FVCOM) bay modules to an enhanced FVCOM shelf module with offshore conditions provided by NRL's operational Intra-Americas Sea Nowcast/Forecast System for analysis of oil dispersion hind-casting.
  2. Wave-Current-Surge Information System (WAVCIS) information with be leveraged for validating component 1. WAVCIS is a real-time regional coastal observation system that operates six shelf stations to measure winds, waves, currents, temperature and salinity.
  3. The Earth Scan Laboratory (ESL) will provide surface oil areal estimates for validation of component 1.
  4. Provide integrated visualization capability for viewing, analyzing, and communicating results from model simulations and model-data integration intended for use by coastal resource managers and decision makers.