Hurricane Maria One Year Later

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico head-on as a Category 4 storm with winds topping 155 miles per hour. The storm damaged homes, flooded towns, devastated the island's forests and caused the longest electricity black-out in U.S. history. Two new NASA research efforts delve into Hurricane Maria's far-reaching effects on the island's forests as seen in aerial surveys with high-resolution lidar and on its residents' energy and electricity access as seen in Night Lights satellite data from space. The findings, presented Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C., illustrate the staggering scope of Hurricane Maria's damage to both the natural environment and communities and expose vulnerabilities in infrastructure.

Content Contact:

Night Lights and Energy Use

Miguel Román
  • NASA's Black Marble night lights used to examine disaster recovery in Puerto Rico
    2018.12.09
    This visualziation starts with a global view of hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico. We then zoom in to Puerto Rico to compare the standard night lights dataset to a new, high definition version of nights lights. After the hurricane passes over the island, we see a massive drop in night light intensity due to loss of power. After showing night light levels over several stages of hurricane recovery, we transition to a 'Days Without Power' dataset. The camera then zooms in to several locations around the island to examine each stage of recovery in more detail.
  • Black Marble View of Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria
    2018.12.10
    At night, a satellite's view of Earth lights up in bright strings of roads dotted with pearl-like cities and towns as humans take center stage in artificial light. In Puerto Rico, during Hurricane Maria, the entire island's lights went out. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, research physical scientist Miguel Román at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and his colleagues combined NASA's Black Marble night lights data product from the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite with USGS-NASA Landsat data and Google's OpenStreetMap to develop a neighborhood-scale map of energy use in communities across Puerto Rico as the electricity grid was slowly restored. They then analyzed the relationship between restoration rates in terms of days without electricity and the remoteness of communities from major cities.

Forest Lidar and Aerial Photos

Doug Morton
  • El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico Canopy Change Nadir View (2017-2018)
    2018.12.10
    Hurricane Maria's lashing rain and winds also transformed Puerto Rico's lush tropical rainforest landscape. Research scientist Doug Morton of Goddard was part of the team of NASA researchers who had surveyed Puerto Rico's forests six months before the storm. The team used Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral, and Thermal (G-LiHT) Airborne Imager, a system designed to study the structure and species composition of forests. Shooting 600,000 laser pulses per second, G-LiHT produces a 3D view of the forest structure in high resolution, showing individual trees in high detail from the ground to treetop. In April 2018, post-Maria, the team went back and surveyed the same tracks as in 2017. The extensive damage to Puerto Rico's forests had far-reaching effects, Morton said. Fallen trees that no longer stabilize soil on slopes with their roots as well as downed branches can contribute to landslides and debris flows, increased erosion, and poor water quality in streams and rivers where sediments build up.
  • El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico Canopy Change from Afar (2017-2018)
    2018.12.10
    Hurricane Maria's lashing rain and winds also transformed Puerto Rico's lush tropical rainforest landscape. Research scientist Doug Morton of Goddard was part of the team of NASA researchers who had surveyed Puerto Rico's forests six months before the storm. The team used Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral, and Thermal (G-LiHT) Airborne Imager, a system designed to study the structure and species composition of forests. Shooting 600,000 laser pulses per second, G-LiHT produces a 3D view of the forest structure in high resolution, showing individual trees in high detail from the ground to treetop. In April 2018, post-Maria, the team went back and surveyed the same tracks as in 2017. The extensive damage to Puerto Rico's forests had far-reaching effects, Morton said. Fallen trees that no longer stabilize soil on slopes with their roots as well as downed branches can contribute to landslides and debris flows, increased erosion, and poor water quality in streams and rivers where sediments build up.
  • El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico Canopy Change Nadir View (2017-2018)
    2018.12.10
    Hurricane Maria's lashing rain and winds also transformed Puerto Rico's lush tropical rainforest landscape. Research scientist Doug Morton of Goddard was part of the team of NASA researchers who had surveyed Puerto Rico's forests six months before the storm. The team used Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral, and Thermal (G-LiHT) Airborne Imager, a system designed to study the structure and species composition of forests. Shooting 600,000 laser pulses per second, G-LiHT produces a 3D view of the forest structure in high resolution, showing individual trees in high detail from the ground to treetop. In April 2018, post-Maria, the team went back and surveyed the same tracks as in 2017. The extensive damage to Puerto Rico's forests had far-reaching effects, Morton said. Fallen trees that no longer stabilize soil on slopes with their roots as well as downed branches can contribute to landslides and debris flows, increased erosion, and poor water quality in streams and rivers where sediments build up.
  • 3-D Views of Puerto Rico's Forests After Hurricane Maria
    2018.12.10
    In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico head-on as a Category 4 storm with winds topping 155 miles per hour. The storm damaged homes, flooded towns, devastated the island's forests and caused the longest electricity black-out in U.S. history. Hurricane Maria's lashing rain and winds transformed Puerto Rico's lush tropical rainforest landscape. Research scientist Doug Morton of Goddard was part of the team of NASA researchers who had surveyed Puerto Rico's forests six months before the storm with Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral, and Thermal (G-LiHT) Airborne Imager, a system designed to study the structure and species composition of Puerto Rican forests. Shooting 600,000 laser pulses per second, G-LiHT produces a 3D view of the forest structure in high resolution. In April 2018, post-Maria, they went back and surveyed the same tracks as in 2017. Comparing the before and after data, the team found that 40 to 60 percent of the tall trees that formed the canopy of the forest either lost large branches, were snapped in half or were uprooted by strong winds. "Maria gave the island's forests a haircut," said Morton. "The island lost so many large trees that forests were shortened by one-third. We basically saw 60 years' worth of what we would consider natural treefall disturbances happen in one day."
  • NASA Surveys Hurricane Damage to Puerto Rico's Forests
    2018.07.10
    On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico with winds of up to 155 miles per hour and battering rain that flooded towns, knocked out communications networks and destroyed the power grid. In the rugged central mountains and the lush northeast, Maria unleashed its fury as fierce winds completely defoliated the tropical forests and broke and uprooted trees, and heavy rainfall triggered thousands of landslides that mowed over swaths of steep mountainsides. NASA’s Earth-observing satellites monitor the world’s forests to detect seasonal changes in vegetation cover or abrupt forest losses from deforestation, but at a coarse resolution. To get a more detailed look, NASA flew an airborne instrument called Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral and Thermal Airborne Imager, or G-LiHT. From the belly of a small aircraft flying one thousand feet above the trees, G-LiHT collected multiple measurements of forests across Puerto Rico, including high-resolution photographs, surface temperatures and the heights and structure of the vegetation.

    The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA provided funding for the airborne campaign.

    The team flew many of the same tracks with G-LiHT as it had in the spring of 2017, months before Hurricane Maria made landfall, as part of a study of how tropical forests regrow on abandoned agricultural land. The before-and-after comparison shows forests across the island still reeling from the hurricane’s impact.
  • G-LiHT Data Archive
    External Resource
    G-LiHT Lidar, passive optical and thermal data provide an analytical framework for the development of new algorithms to map plant species composition, plant functional types, biodiversity, biomass and carbon stocks, and plant growth. G-LiHT data is also used to initialize and validate 3D radiative transfer models, and intercalibrate Earth observing satellites. G-LiHT was specifically designed for use with a wide range of common, general aviation aircraft in order to provide affordable, well-calibrated image data worldwide.
  • Aerial Photos Flickr Album
    External Resource
    A Flickr album of photos from NASA's G-LiHT campaign to Puerto Rico in April 2018 to study the forest recovery since Hurricane Maria.