News and Events at the ESL

ESL at Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion 2016

ESL staff teach handreds of students about remote sensing and the ocean

The ESL hosted an exhibit at Louisiana SeaGrant's ocean commotion event. This event is held annually in order to introduce elementary and middle school students to oceanographic processes. The students are shown demonstrations and in some cases allowed to interactively participate in some exhibits.  

The ESL taught students how remote sensing techniques can be used in order to detect oceanic features. Students were also shown a series of images that demonstrated how scientists use remote sensing to detect and study oceanographic and land based features. The ESL team provided a demonstration that showed how remote sensing radiometers can detect temperature via indirect contact.  The students asked some very interesting questions and the ESL staff gave them detailed answers.
At this year's event, the ESL has shown some very interesting animations of the sea surface temperature, loop current and eddies effect, and the hurricanes.  

Published: November 01, 2016

LSU’s Earth Scan Laboratory Develops Bird’s-Eye View of Lake Pontchartrain Sedim

GCOOS Partner’s Work Helps to Support Environmental Sampling Strategies Following Mississippi River Flooding

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway on Jan. 10, it was the earliest in a calendar year the Spillway had ever been opened. Located southwest of Lake Pontchartrain, the Bonnet Carré is designed to divert water from the Mississippi River through the Lake and out into the Gulf of Mexico to keep New Orleans from flooding.

Forty-one percent of the continental U.S. drains to the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River and the heavy rains and flooding in the Midwest in December caused by the current El Niño Event and possible effects of climate change necessitated the Spillway’s early opening to protect New Orleans.

When the Army Corps opened the Spillway — just the 11th time ever in the Bonnet Carré’s 85-year history — Dr. Nan Walker, Director of the Earth Scan Laboratory (ESL) at Louisiana State University and a principal investigator for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS), was watching.

The Earth Scan Laboratory, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, captures satellite data from the entire Gulf of Mexico (along with most of the Western Atlantic, the extreme Eastern Pacific and the land mass from Hudson Bay to northern-most South America) to create a record of environmental information for education, research, economic and forensic applications.

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Published: March 01, 2016

The bad with the good?

Opening Bonnet Carre Spillway eases flooding but also has both good and bad impacts on Lake Pontchartrain

Earth Scan Lab's imagery are included in this piece by The New Orleans Advocate.

A plume of sediment-laden river water is slowly spreading along the southern reaches of Lake Pontchartrain and working its way toward the Gulf of Mexico as the Bonnet Carre Spillway throws 186,000 cubic feet per second of fresh river water into the salty lake.

The potential effects of the continuing operation of the spillway, which relieves flooding pressure downriver, are a mixed bag.

In addition to sediment, the colder and fresher river water also carries nutrients from upriver agricultural practices, carries the possibility of invasive species and has at least the temporary effect of moving out certain species of fish that want more-brackish water.

At the same time, the additional nutrients can provide a base for better growth of other species, the cold water may mean the impact on oysters will be lessened and nutrient blooms apparent in previous spillway operations may be delayed, if they happen at all. 


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Published: March 01, 2016

ESL at Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion 2015

ESL graduate students teach thousands of students about remote sensing and the ocean

The ESL hosted an exhibit at Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion event. This event is held annually in order to introduce elementary and middle school students to oceanographic processes. The students are shown demonstrations and in some cases allowed to interactively participate in some exhibits. 

The ESL taught students how remote sensing techniques can be used in order to detect oceanic features. Students were also shown a series of images that demonstrated how scientists use remote sensing to detect and study oceanographic and land based features. The ESL team provided a demonstration that showed how remote sensing radiometers can detect temperature via indirect contact. 

In addition, students were shown animations of 
Hurricane Patricia, the strongest tropical cyclone in the Western Hemisphere! 

Published: October 28, 2015

ESL at Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion 2014

ESL employees and students teach hundreds of students about remote sensing

The ESL hosted an exhibit at Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion event. This event is held annually in order to introduce elementary and middle school students to oceanographic processes. The students are shown demonstrations and in some cases allowed to interactively participate in some exhibits.

The ESL taught students how remote sensing techniques can be used in order to detect oceanic features. Students were also shown a series of images that demonstrated how scientists use remote sensing to detect and study oceanographic and land based features. The ESL team provided a demonstration that showed how remote sensing radiometers can detect temperature via indirect contact. The students asked some very interesting questions and they were highly interested!

Published: November 04, 2014

EnvironMentors Visit the ESL

ESL discusses using remote sensing to detect various oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon

The EnvironMentors is a college to high school student mentoring program where a high school student is paired up with two college graduate students in order to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), environmental processes, and conservation through a year-long science fair project of the student's choosing.

During the ESL lab tour, students were shown various atmospheric and oceanic animationsprevious hurricanes, the BP oil spill imagery, and all the different ways remote sensing can be used to profile the atmosphere and Earth's surface. They learned about the different types of satellites and the ways satellites can be used to increase our understanding of oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon. 

Published: October 13, 2014

25th Year Anniversary Calendar

ESL creates 18-month calendar to showcase best imagery

Twenty-five years old and still going strong, the ESL supports research, education and public service with near real-time and archival remotely sensed satellite data. Every few minutes, new data from NASA and NOAA satellites are received, processed, archived and disseminated via the Internet, providing time-critical information on hurricanes, ocean currents, oil spills and fires. 
In order to celebrate these twenty-five years, the ESL has compiled a 9"x12" 18-month calendar of the most beautiful and memorable images captured.

This calendar is available for purchase at the LSU Foundation page. Your purchase will support the ESL in its real-time operations for ongoing research of hurricanes, coastal management, and environmental impacts affecting the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding regions.

Published: August 22, 2014

ESL upgrades X-band antenna

VIIRS data now being captured at the ESL

The ESL recently underwent an upgrade to its X-band antenna and is now able to capture data from the Suomi-NPP satellite. The ESL will be capturing data from the VIIRS sensor aboard the satellite. This sensor includes 16 moderate resolution channels and 5 high resolution channels. Also, the sensor has the ability to capture a day/night band. The new capturing capabilities increase the ESL's ability to study oceanic features and tropical cyclones. Not only is it possible to study oceanic features, but land based phenomenon as well.

This new upgrade not only allows the ESL to receive a wide variety of new data, but it also allows staff and students the ability to conduct cutting edge research. With the upgrade of our X-band antenna, the ESL hopes to attract researchers from all disciplines. 
Much thanks goes to our systems administrator, Alaric Haag, for his tireless efforts spent performing the upgrade. Also, we'd like to thank SeaSpace Corporation's Tony Burnuoff for assisting Alaric in the lengthy installation process.

For more information on the new satellite, visit our satellites page and click on "Suomi NPP".

Published: February 26, 2014

ESL Imagery Shows Seriously Frozen Great Lakes

Images from the ESL published in the St.Bernard Parish Post

Louisiana State Climatologist, Dr. Barry Keim, recently used two ESL images in his weekly weather column in the St. Bernard Parish Post to show the extent of ice cover on the Great Lakes. Dr. Keim writes that:

a significant proportion of the Great Lakes surface is now frozen. NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory indicates that the Great Lakes ice cover is currently (February 19th) at 80 percent, with Lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie are almost completely frozen over. Lakes Michigan and Ontario still have large portions of their surfaces as open water.

This provides additional evidence as to how cold this winter has been. For comparison, the maximum extent of ice coverage for Lake Superior last winter was about 40%, while Lake Huron was 46 percent, and 84 percent for Lake Erie. Despite how cold our Louisiana winter has been this year, we can still rejoice in the fact that our Great Lakes - Pontchartrain, Maurepaus, Lery, Borgne, and Salvador – are all unfrozen and await Louisiana’s fishermen.

You can read Dr. Keim's weekly weather column in the St. Bernard Parish Post
You can download the column here.

Published: February 26, 2014

ESL at Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion 2013

Hundreds of K-8 students head to LSU's PMAC to learn about Louisiana's coastal systems

The ESL team headed over to LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center on October 22nd to participate in Louisiana SeaGrant's Ocean Commotion, an annual event that allows over 60 public and private organizations the opportunity to introduce Kindergarten through 8th grade students to topics of interest along our coast. Hundreds of students from around the state participated in this years event where they were able to hear about their coastal ecosystem and the role they can play in stewarding a healthy coastal environment for all of its inhabitants. 

The ESL presented a variety of applications of satellite data to coastal management. Students were introduced to the theory of remote sensing, how scientists use that theory to study the Earth's atmosphere and ocean, the role that the ocean plays in "powering" tropical cyclones, how scientists were able to determine the fate of surface oil during the BP oil spill by monitoring ocean currents, and much more. Many students offered their own theories of how hurricanes are formed, what makes a hurricane strong, and what a "dead zone" might be. They were fascinated by how much there was to learn and about the relationship that the ocean has on our coastal zones and our weather patterns. 

Many thanks to Louisiana Sea Grant for allowing our state's youth the opportunity to learn more about our coastal zone and how we can best help keep it strong!

Published: October 23, 2013

LSU's Tiger Challenge Comes to the ESL

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

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 Weather Service gets big computing boost

MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. National Weather Service is getting a quantum jump in computing power that will significantly improve its forecasting and storm tracking abilities to better protect the country from severe weather.

"This is a game changer," Louis Uccellini, who took over as director of the National Weather Service in February, told Reuters in an interview, calling it "the biggest increase in operational capacity that we've ever had."

The Weather Services' global and national weather prediction efforts have long been hampered by aging technology and a lack of computer power to support day-to-day operations. But Uccellini said that was all due to change through upgrades of its IBM system that will give it more than 25 times the computer power it has today.

Over the next two years, the results should be apparent through enhancements across the whole range of products and services the Weather Service produces, focusing on everything from routine weather to tornadoes and hurricanes to floods, droughts and blizzards. 

Published: May 16, 2013

WAPO: Gulf Oil Spill Could Cause Lasting Damage to Fish Populations

LSU study shows significant impacts on Gulf food chain

Juliet Eilperin, a journalist writing for the Washington Post, writes an article highlighting research performed at LSU on the impacts of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. The research is a collaboration between LSU's departments of Biology, Chemistry, and LSU's School of the Coast and Environment as well as researchers at Clemson and Texas State Univerisy. The Earth Scan Laboratory contributed to this research by providing a metric of surface oil inundation at sample locations across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Ms. Eilperin writes:

Fish living in Gulf of Mexico marshes exposed to last year’s oil spill have undergone cellular changes that could lead to developmental and reproductive problems, a group of researchers reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


[Principal Investigator Andrew]Whitehead said the results show that just because fish from the gulf have passed federal inspections, it does not mean these species are unaffected by the spill.

“You can have a fish that’s safe to eat but is still not healthy,” he said, adding that as sediment containing hydrocarbons is dredged up by storms, it could expose species over time. “The sediments are going to act as this long-term reservoir of oil, of potential exposure.”

Published: September 26, 2011

BBC: What will a hurricane do to the oil spill?

BBC's interview of LSU's Ed Overton and ESL Director Nan Walker

The BBC's Finlo Rohrer ask the ESL's director Nan Walker and LSU's Ed Overton what will a hurricane do to the oil spill?

Apart from the possibility of damage and loss of life unrelated to the oil spill, there is a very obvious downside to hurricanes passing near the source of the oil spill.

A hurricane would clearly disrupt the efforts to stop the leak, although BP has a plan to install a device in order to quickly disconnect and reconnect the link down to the spill site in high winds. On shore, tasks like the laying of boom and rescue of wildlife would become more problematic.

But what would happen to the oil that is already out there floating in the sea?


"It is potentially not a pretty picture," says Prof Nan Walker, an oceanographer at the School of the Coast and Environment at LSU.

"A real concern is that because Louisiana is so low-lying, even a category one storm can raise the water level eight or 10 feet.

"There is potential for oil to go fairly far inland, penetrating the marshes even deeper. It makes the problem potentially a lot worse."

The sand berms, or barriers, that have been planned in Louisiana may not stop even a relatively small storm surge.

Download this article as a PDF

Published: June 02, 2010

NY Times: Loop Current Destabilizes, Lowering Gulf Oil Spill's Threat to Fla.

Loop Current sheds an eddy, keeping oil in the central Gulf and out of the Gulf Stream

Paul Voosen of the New York Times writes that the loop current's destabilization in mid-May will keep surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the central Gulf of Mexico rather than continuing on to the southern and eastern coast of Florida:

A large rotating cyclone of cold water is pushing into the southern body of the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current and now appears likely to destabilize or even sever the current and the oil it contains from its connection to Florida, scientists said today.

[I]magery today has shown that, while filaments of oil have escaped into the current, "the main pool of oil is remaining up there in the eddy" and not progressing south, said Mitch Roffer, an oceanographer at the scientific consulting firm ROFFS.


Typically, a forceful counterclockwise cyclone near southwest Florida "punches through the Loop Current," severing the flow from its connection to the Atlantic, said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Lab at Louisiana State University's School of the Coast and Environment.

"It looks like that kind of scenario is imminent," Walker said.


"At this stage, it's a watch and waiting game," Walker said.  
Download this article as a PDF

Published: May 20, 2010

National Geographic: Gulf Oil Is in the Loop Current, Experts Say

Oil caught in eddy could soon merge with Loop Current

Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic writes of the increasing possibility that oil will reach the Loop Current and be carried southward.

"Images from the past few days show a "big, wide tongue" of oil reaching south from the main area of the spill, off the coast of Louisiana, said Nan Walker, director of Louisiana State University's Earth Scan Laboratory, in the School of the Coast and Environment."


"The oil has also reached the point where the eddy connects to the Loop Current, Walker said. That means the oil is traveling eastward alongside the main stream of the Loop Current, and it's likely that it will continue flowing with the current to Florida, Walker said."


Published: May 18, 2010

NY Times: The Oil and the Loop Current

The Loop Current carries oil towards the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean

An article written in the New York Times by John Collins Rudolf explores the influence of the Loop Current on oil trajectory. The piece examines the possibility of oil being carried by the Loop Current and making it to the Florida Keys and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.


Satellite images shed light on the trajectory of the oil and the current. The image above shows the oil spill as observed from space by the NASA Satellites Terra and Aqua on Monday. Using an array of sensors, these satellites detect the spectral reflection of the ocean, allowing a wide variety of observations on things like water temperature and surface features like the oil spill.

“It’s highly visible in our imagery,” said Nan Walker, an oceanographer with the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University, where a separate analysis of the satellite images is being done. “It’s unmistakable. And oil spills, to my mind, aren’t usually that easy to track.” 

Published: May 18, 2010

NY Times: Unpredictable Current Is Wild Card in Gulf Disaster Scenarios

Will the loop current bring oil out of the Gulf?

Paul Voosen writes an article in the New York Times about the impact the loop current will have on the fate of surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

An undersea conveyor belt to Florida is approaching the Gulf Coast oil spill, and should it stretch past its typical bounds, oil from the BP PLC accident, blobbing placidly off the Louisiana coast, could soon stream into the Florida Keys and up the United States' Eastern Seaboard.

Or the current could miss the spill entirely.

For the current to begin conveying the oil at any volume, it would still have to surge much farther north, which some computer models like Weisberg's are predicting. However, as Weisberg confesses, many of these models are deeply flawed, and the behavior of the Loop Current -- when it will decide to surge or instead break apart -- is prohibitively complex to forecast.

In other words, "no one has really been able to predict with much accuracy what the Loop Current will do," said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University, who is monitoring the oil and current with several sets of satellite data.

Published: May 05, 2010

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

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

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

Oceansat-1 Shows Wildfires in Southern California

Imagery shows large areas burning in three separate areas

At 6:37 Central time the Earth Scan Lab captured the above image showing the ongoing wildfires burning across southern California. Large triangular shaped smoke plumes appear in a blue-gray indicating substantial burning beneath. Los Angeles and San Diego are towards the top left of the image, while Baja California is visible to the south.

Published: October 23, 2007

Time: Hurricane Rita: Global Warming the Culprit?

Evidence mounts that human activity is helping fuel these monster storms

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