News and Events at the ESL

LSU's Tiger Challenge Comes to the ESL

Campers discuss how scientists use remote sensing to monitor and study natural disasters

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On June 19th sixteen 5th and 6th graders stopped by the Earth Scan Laboratory to find out how scientists use satellite and in-situ measurements to monitor and study hurricanes, tornados, flooding, and more. The campers learned about air-sea interactions that can strengthen or weaken hurricanes and tropical storms, how these interactions impact life in the ocean, how researchers track sediment loads along the coast during flooding events, and how new satellite systems are giving us a whole new view of tornados as they happen. Campers were very eager to see and learn about Hurricane Gustav, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and how remote sensing affords us all essential information that helps our communities stay safe and to respond to significant events.

We would like to thank the folks at LSU's Tiger Challenge for stopping by to learn more about remote sensing of natural disasters!

Published: June 27, 2013

National Geographic: Hurricane Could Push Spilled Gulf Oil Into New Orleans

ESL Director Nan Walker and others comment on impacts hurricanes could have on oil spill

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Christine Dell'Amore reports on the impact a hurricane could have on surface oil and the cleanup effort in a National Geographic article:

Inside the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana (map), data screens are showing clear skies over the Gulf of Mexico.

But lead forecaster Robert Ricks, who's coordinating 12-hour emergency shifts to provide information to people combating the Gulf oil spill, knows not to drop his guard.

"Just when you think everything's fine—that's when it can go wrong," said Ricks, who was also on duty in 2005 as Hurricane Katrina pummeled Slidell.


"Say the oil spill remained and [another] Katrina hit," said Nan Walker, a physical oceanographer at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. "The oil could be propelled onto land by the storm surge and monster waves."

Ron Kendall, chair of the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, made a more dire prediction: "You put a major hurricane in there, you’re liable to have oil in downtown New Orleans."

Published: May 05, 2010

LSU Highlights: LSU’s Earth Scan Lab Tracks Cold Water Upwellings in Gulf

Cold water cyclones may have strong impact on hurricane intensity and activity

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The Earth Scan Lab's research in interactions between tropical storms and the cool wakes they create are highlighted In an online article written by LSU's <a href="">Ashley Berthelot</a>:

Complex interactions between the ocean and overlying atmosphere cause hurricanes to form, and also have a tremendous amount of influence on the path, intensity and duration of a hurricane or tropical weather event. As researchers develop new ways to better understand and predict the nature of individual storms, a largely unstudied phenomenon has caught the attention of scientists at LSU’s Earth Scan Laboratory, or ESL. Cool water upwellings occurring within ocean cyclones following alongside and behind hurricanes are sometimes strong enough to reduce the strength of hurricanes as they cross paths.

Be sure to check out our research page for more information on cool water upwellings following storm passage.  

Published: September 16, 2009

Time: Hurricane Rita: Global Warming the Culprit?

Evidence mounts that human activity is helping fuel these monster storms

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Time magazine's Jeffrey Kruger takes on the emerging scientific evidence indicating that anthropomorphic climate change is impacting the size, strength, and timing of tropical storms.  

Nature doesn't always know when to quit--and nothing says that quite like a hurricane. The atmospheric convulsion that was Hurricane Katrina had barely left the Gulf Coast before its sister Rita was spinning to life out in the Atlantic. In the three weeks between them, five other named storms had lived and died in the warm Atlantic waters without making the same headlines their ferocious sisters did. With more than two months left in the official hurricane season, only Stan, Tammy, Vince and Wilma are still available on the National Hurricane Center's annual list of 21 storm names. If the next few weeks go like the past few, those names will be used up too, and the storms that follow will be identified simply by Greek letters. Never in the 52 years we have been naming storms has there been a Hurricane Alpha.

If 2005 goes down as the worst hurricane season on record in the North Atlantic, it will join 2004 as one of the most violent ever. And these two seasons are part of a trend of increasingly powerful and deadly hurricanes that has been playing out for more than 10 years. Says climatologist Judy Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology: "The so-called once-in-a-lifetime storm isn't even once in a season anymore."

Head-snapping changes in the weather like this inevitably raise the question, Is global warming to blame? For years, environmentalists have warned that one of the first and most reliable signs of a climatological crash would be an upsurge in the most violent hurricanes, the kind that thrive in a suddenly warmer world. Scientists are quick to point out that changes in the weather and climate change are two different things. But now, after watching two Gulf Coast hurricanes reach Category 5 in the space of four weeks, even skeptical scientists are starting to wonder whether something serious might be going on.

"There is no doubt that climate is changing and humans are partly responsible," says Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate-analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. "The odds have changed in favor of more intense storms and heavier rainfalls." Says NCAR meteorologist Greg Holland: "These are not small changes. We're talking about a very large change."


It's not just warmer water on the surface that's powering the hurricanes; deeper warm water is too--at least in the Gulf of Mexico. Extending from the surface to a depth of 2,000 ft. or more is something scientists call the Loop Current, a U-shaped stream of warm water that flows from the Yucatán Straits to the Florida Straits and sometimes reaches as far north as the Mississippi River delta. Hurricanes that pass over the Loop typically get an energy boost, but the extra kick is brief, since they usually cross it and move on. But Rita and Katrina surfed it across the Gulf, picking up an even more powerful head of steam before slamming into the coastal states. Even if those unlucky beelines had been entirely random, the general trend toward warmer Gulf water may well have made the Loop even deadlier than usual.

"We don't know the temperature within the Loop Current," says Nan Walker, director of Louisiana State University's Earth Scan Laboratory. "It's possible that below the surface, it's warmer than normal. This needs to be investigated." 
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Published: September 26, 2005