Mobile // Mobile Applications
Commentary
9/1/2005
07:49 PM
Commentary
Commentary
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

New Orleans Satellite Imagery: A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Reporters

I went to DigitalGlobe a few minutes ago to follow up on a Metroblogger's report that they had satellite imagery of New Orleans and the surrounding area available. I'm posting a link below, to a satellite image taken Wednesday -- the height of the flooding in the city -- and some commentary to help you understand what you're seeing. Here's the short version: The city's historic districts -- its heart, its soul, and its collective memory, not to menti

I went to DigitalGlobe a few minutes ago to follow up on a Metroblogger's report that they had satellite imagery of New Orleans and the surrounding area available. I'm posting a link below, to a satellite image taken Wednesday -- the height of the flooding in the city -- and some commentary to help you understand what you're seeing. Here's the short version: The city's historic districts -- its heart, its soul, and its collective memory, not to mention a critical link in its economy -- have survived.Here is the message on the DigitalGlobe site -- I know that a lot of people will be grateful to have the imagery they're gathering during the next few satellite flyovers, myself included. They have our thanks for giving a lot of people reason for hope and a lot of others the certainty that it's time to think about rebuilding.

Dear Concerned Party,

First let the DigitalGlobe community say that all of the people and communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina are in our thoughts. We hope for the most rapid and best outcome possible for them all.

DigitalGlobe is aware of the extreme humanitarian need in the communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina and is making every effort possible to collect useable satellite imagery of the impacted areas. We have five potential satellite accesses planned for the next week.

Weather conditions permitting, this imagery will be posted on our website and available through our partners.

DigitalGlobe, Google and GlobeXplorer (www.globexplorer.com) are working closely to provide the updated imagery via Google Maps, Google Earth, and the GlobeXplorer suite of products including ImageAtlas as quickly as is possible.

Please visit our website periodically throughout the next days in order to get updates on newly available imagery. For advanced satellite imagery and GIS users, please contact the reseller in your region by going to our reseller locator.

Best, The DigitalGlobe Community

At GlobeExplorer you can load a high-quality (4062 x 4544 pixel) satellite image of the city, taken during the day on Wednesday, August 31. (NOTE: This is a large image, and I recommend against trying to load it on older systems or over dialup conections!) The intro page, with before and after pictures is available here.

For those of you who don't know the city: That's Lake Ponchatrain running along the top of the image, and of course the Mississippi River curling across the bottom right corner.

The Central Business District runs along the river from the bridge at the very bottom (the Crescent City Connection) and then up about an inch and a half in the regular-size image. You can see the Superdome, with its damaged roof, a little to the left, where the flooded area begins. Interstate 10 runs into the city almost to the Superdome and then turns back up and to the right, exiting to the east at the (now unusable) bridge over the Industrial Canal known as the High Rise.

Above the CBD, also along the River, lies the French Quarter; farther up and also closest to the river are Faubourg Marigny and Bywater, two other historic areas in the city.

In the center of the picture, you can see the Fairgrounds, with Bayou St. John dog-legging out of City Park, a little to the left. Gentilly, including what are probably some very badly flooded areas, lies above the Fairgrounds area.

On the far right, you can see the Industrial Canal, both where it leaves the lake and enters the river; the eastern parts of New Orleans, as well as the suburban areas of St. Bernard Parish (where until this week my grandfather's house, as well as the house where I was born, once stood), lie beyond. One of the major levee breaks occurred along this canal, flooding the Ninth Ward, visible from center to lower right -- I suspect many of the dead will be found in this area in the days to come. The other levee breach was at the now-infamous 17th Street Canal, visible running along the center and upper left side; Metairie and East Jefferson Parish, among the city's wealthier suburbs, lie out of the shot to the left.

Across the river from the French Quarter, inside the riverbend, lies Old Algiers, including some very historic neighborhoods almost as old as the French Quarter. As you can see, the Algiers Point levees held, and this part of the West Banks is unflooded, if far from undamaged.

The city's historic Uptown areas, including the Garden District and the rest of the area between St. Charles Avenue and Tchopitoulas Street, is not in this picture; to orient yourself to its location out of the shot, you would start near the non-flooded area at the center bottom of the image, and go down from there. Tulane University is in this area, as well.

This image was taken at or near the height of the flooding Wednesday. You can tell very quickly which areas have standing water and which ones do not. Although you cannot tell the depth of the water, comparing the image to a decent topo map, noting where the water begins and then extrapolating from there, suggests that not all of it is hopelessly submerged.

(I highly recommend reading the blog post that you'll also find at the link posted above, regarding the inaccurate reporting on flooding inside the city.)

Let's get one thing straight: Reports that the entire city would flood under 10-15 feet of water, or that the French Quarter and surrounding areas were under water, are ignorant and inexcusable. These and similar shots have been available to any customer with the money to pay for them since the crisis began, yet the TV networks in particular seem to be unburdened by even a single clue about any of this stuff.

My advice -- and I freely admit that I'm a biased party in all of this -- is that going to CNN, Fox News, or any other network broadcast news source for information about New Orleans is worse than a waste of your time. Hit Metroblogging New Orleans first, or go to Technorati and find some others that your gut tells you are credible, and you'll get a much better sense both of why this disaster is far worse than you can imagine, as well as why it's also not nearly as hopeless as you may think it is.

Trust your eyes: While large parts of New Orleans are under water, many of the most historic parts of the city are NOT flooded, nor were they at any point. Furthermore, the extent of the non-flooded areas, including some to the north along the lake, tells me that many areas in the Garden District and elsewhere in the Uptown are either unflooded or suffered non-catastrophic flooding.

A second map of flooding reports from the Marigny/Bywater area, assembled from eyewitness posts on the NOLA.com forums, is also available here. It reflects what is visible on the satellite image, and I consider it trustworthy.

Finally, a note: At the Metroblogging New Orleans site, as at many other blogs, you're going to encounter some blunt language regarding what to do with looters, opinions of the national press, and insults aimed at certain pea-brained Congressmen who just don't know when to shut up. If you're easily offended or upset, don't read them -- and I also suggest crawlinig under a rock for the next month or so.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Among 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and community news at InformationWeek.com.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.