How can aerial photographs be used to quickly assess damage from a major natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina?
- Students will use maps and online data resources to locate the specific geographic areas included in aerial photographs.
- Students will use aerial photographic imagery to assess some impacts of Hurricane Katrina.
Links to Overview Essays and Resources Useful for Student Research
- (optional) Computers with Internet access; if students do not have access to the Internet, download copies of materials cited under “Learning Procedure” and provide copies of these materials to each student or student group.
- Copies of “Student Worksheet: Aerial Surveillance of Impacts from Hurricane Katrina,” found at the end of this lesson plan, one copy for each student group. Click here for a printable copy of the Student Worksheet
One 45-minute class period, plus time for student research.
Groups of 4-6 students.
Maximum Number of Students
The coastal zone is a region of constant change. Some changes occur relatively slowly over decades, while other dramatic changes can happen overnight. These changes may be the result of natural events such as erosion and severe storms, or may be caused by coastal development and other human activities. Whatever the cause, the ability to recognize and quantify these changes is vital to many coastal resource uses, including commercial shipping, fishing, recreation, tourism, as well as to the people who make their homes in these areas. High resolution aerial photographs are the primary source of information about coastal change. Obtaining these photographs for the 95,000 mile U.S. shoreline is the responsibility of the National Geodetic Survey, part of NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS). Data from these photographs are used to produce nautical charts, define jurisdictional boundaries, such as boundaries between property owners, federal, state, and local jurisdictions, boundaries of territorial seas, and the Exclusive Economic Zone. Aerial photographs are publically available for any area in the United States and its territories through the NOS Data Explorer Web site (https://oceanservice.noaa.govv/dataexplorer/)
In some cases, the need for this information is extremely urgent and may literally be a matter of life and death. Such was the case when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Plaquenines Parish on August 29, 2005. This extremely powerful storm caused widespread destruction in heavily populated areas of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. In the days immediately following the storm, there were many urgent questions, including:
- Which major roads and bridges can be used by rescuers and relief agencies?
- Where is flooding taking place?
- Is there evidence of oil spills or other contamination from industrial facilities?
In addition, thousands of evacuees simply wanted to know whether their homes and businesses were still standing after the storm.
Because hundreds of miles of coastline were simultaneously affected, aerial photography provided the quickest and most effective means of answering many of these questions. On August 30, the day after the hurricane, NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey began a series of missions to obtain high resolution aerial photographs of the affected coastal areas in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In this lesson, students will acquire hands-on experience with some of the ways aerial photography can be used to answer practical questions about coastal resources.
- To prepare for this lesson:
- Lead a brief discussion of why aerial images are needed of the nation’s shorelines, and how this information might be useful following natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Provide each student group with a copy of the “Student Worksheet: Aerial Surveillance of Impacts from Hurricane Katrina” (and copies of relevant images if students do not have access to the Internet). If time is short, you may want to assign a smaller number of images for each group to analyze. All groups should complete Steps 1 through 5. The remaining steps may be divided among several groups if desired.
- Lead a discussion of students’ answers to problems on the worksheet. The following points should be included:
- A large vessel, possibly a barge, appears to be aground on the beach along the portion of the Biloxi shoreline examined in the image titled “24333378.jpg”.
- This same image shows extensive roof damage to the motel at 1865 Beach Boulevard; several vehicles appear to be piled into one corner of the parking lot next to the building and piles of debris are scattered over the site.
- Image 24333287 shows that the portion of US 90 that crosses Biloxi Bay between Biloxi and Ocean Springs, MS is completely destroyed; only concrete supports remain above the water.
- Images 24333390 and 24333396 show two structures, apparently intact, between Beauvoir Road and Brady Drive. There is a large pile of debris between these structures. Reports posted on the Friends of Beauvoir website indicate that the main building at Beauvoir survived better than many more modern structures, but did sustain considerable damage. Other buildings, including the one in which Davis penned his post-war memoirs, were destroyed.
- Images 24334575, 24334580, and 24841142 show that bridges connecting Bay St. Louis, MS to Biloxi along US 90 are destroyed.
- The on-off ramp at the intersection of Interstate Highway 10 and Orleans Avenue in New Orleans was not useable because it was underwater.
- Sheening is evident on the portion Mississippi to the south of the two storage tanks visible near the center of image 24727673. The aerial image shows many trees lying on the ground in the surrounding area. Note that the total size of this spill was estimated at 3.78 million gallons.
The Bridge Connection
The Bridge is a growing collection online marine education resources. It provides educators with a convenient source of useful information on global, national, and regional marine science topics. Educators and scientists review sites selected for the Bridge to insure that they are accurate and current.
http://www.vims.edu/bridge/ – In the “Site Navigation” menu on the left, click on “Ocean Science Topics,” then “Atmosphere” for links to activities and information concerning extreme weather events.
The “Me” Connection
Have students write a brief essay describing how they might personally use aerial photography following an event similar to Hurricane Katrina.
- Have students research a specific individual, business, or community that was affected by Hurricane Katrina, and locate aerial images of the area involved.
- Another use of aerial photography and shorelines mapping is the creation of “Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) Maps.” These maps are intended to provide information on the location of critical coastal resources so that responders to oil and chemical spills can quickly determine the most vulnerable areas that should be protected. Visit for more information, and http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/esi/exercise/maps.html for an exercise using ESI maps.
https://oceanservice.noaa.govv/dataexplorer/ – NOS’s Data Explorer web site providing access to coastal maps, shoreline surveys, coastal aerial photography, environmental sensitivity index maps, geodetic control points, maritime boundaries, estuarine bathymetry, and water level stations
http://www.geodesy.noaa.gov/RSD/coastal/cscap.shtml – Web site for the National Geodetic Survey’s Coast and Shoreline Change Analysis Program, which analyzes shoreline changes by comparing recent high-resolution satellite imagery or high-altitude reconnaissance aerial photography with existing NOAA nautical charts
http://alt.ngs.noaa.gov/katrina – Web site for Hurricane Katrina aerial photographic images from NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey
National Science Education Standards
Content Standard B: Physical Science
Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science
- Energy in the earth system
Content Standard E: Science and Technology
- Abilities of technological design
- Understandings about science and technology
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
- Personal and community health
- Natural resources
- Environmental quality
- Natural and human-induced hazards
- Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
Ocean Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts
Essential Principle 3. The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
- Fundamental Concept a. The ocean controls weather and climate by dominating the Earth’s energy, water and carbon systems.
- Fundamental Concept b. The ocean absorbs much of the solar radiation reaching Earth. The ocean loses heat by evaporation. This heat loss drives atmospheric circulation when, after it is released into the atmosphere as water vapor, it condenses and forms rain. Condensation of water evaporated from warm seas provides the energy for hurricanes and cyclones.
Essential Principle 6. The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
- Fundamental Concept a. The ocean affects every human life. It supplies freshwater (most rain comes from the ocean) and nearly all Earth’s oxygen. It moderates the Earth’s climate, influences our weather, and affects human health.
- Fundamental Concept d. Much of the world’s population lives in coastal areas.
- Fundamental Concept f. Coastal regions are susceptible to natural hazards (such as tsunamis, hurricanes, cyclones, sea level change, and storm surges).
Essential Principle 7. The ocean is largely unexplored.
- Fundamental Concept d. New technologies, sensors and tools are expanding our ability to explore the ocean. Ocean scientists are relying more and more on satellites, drifters, buoys, subsea observatories and unmanned submersibles.
Images of Katrina
Student Worksheet: Aerial Surveillance of Impacts from Hurricane Katrina
Features on the aerial images are not labeled, so unless you are familiar with the area included in the image, it may be difficult to find specific locations. In addition, the geographic orientation of aerial images varies from image to image (that is, the top of the image may correspond to any direction; north, south, east, west, etc.). To overcome this problem, you can use an online mapping engine to locate street names and other features for the areas you want to examine. Matching conspicuous features on aerial images (such as shorelines, major highways, lakes, etc) with labeled images from online maps will help identify specific areas on aerial photographs. The following directions use the Google™ mapping engine to help locate specific features in the vicinity of Biloxi, MS.
- Open the mapping Web site (http://maps.google.com/), and enter “biloxi” in the “Search” box at the top of the page and click on the “Search” button. A map of the greater Biloxi area will appear. Click on the “Satellite” button in the upper right corner of the map to display a satellite image of the area. Be sure that the “Show labels” box is checked so that major streets are outlined and labeled. Locate the “+” button in the upper left corner of the map, and click this button to zoom in. Locate the President Broadwater Golf Club, and zoom in until Beach Boulevard (U.S. highway 90, south of the golf club), Veterans Avenue (east of the golf club), Popps Ferry Road (west of the golf club), and Pass Road (north of the golf club) are visible.
- Move the window containing the hybrid map to one side of your desktop. Open a second window,
- In the second window, open the Katrina base map index at http://ngs.woc.noaa.gov/katrina/KATRINA0000.HTM. Click on the square overlying the location of Biloxi, Mississippi. A new index map should appear titled “Biloxi, Mississippi Image Index Map.” The green lines on the map indicate major roadways. The series of open squares represent individual photographic images. When you place your cursor over a square, your browser should display the Web address of the corresponding image. Locate the square whose address is http://ngs.woc.noaa.gov/storms/katrina/24333378.jpg, and click on this square. This should open an image titled “24333378.jpg.” If a different image opens, try again until the correct number appears.
- You now have an aerial photographic image of a portion of the Biloxi shoreline. The left side of the image corresponds to south, the top of the image is west, the right side corresponds to north, and the bottom of the image is east. Position your cursor over the image. The cursor will change to a magnifying glass containing a “+” sign. Click once to zoom in. Use the scroll buttons to move the window until the shoreline comes into view. Scroll down to scan the shoreline. Do you notice anything unusual along this portion of the beach?
- Locate Veterans Avenue near the bottom right corner of the image. Follow Veterans Avenue south (toward the left of the image) until the intersection of Veterans Avenue and Beach Boulevard is visible. Describe the apparent condition of the motel at 1865 Beach Boulevard (the northwest corner of the intersection).
- Use your satellite map and the Biloxi index map to locate a photographic image that includes the portion of US 90 that crosses a bridge over Biloxi Bay between Biloxi and Ocean Springs, MS. Describe the condition of the bridge near the Biloxi side of the Bay.
- Beauvoir, the retirement estate of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was among many irreplaceable historic sites in Katrina’s path. Beauvoir is located at 2244 Beach Boulevard in Biloxi (number 2244 is about halfway between Beauvoir Road and Brady Drive; use the lakes on the President Broadwater Golf Club, the large storage tank to the west of Beauvoir Road, and the marina east of Brady Drive to help locate this area on the aerial photograph). What can you determine from aerial imagery about the estate’s condition following the hurricane?
- Use the Katrina base map index to open an index map for Bay St. Louis, MS (see Step 3), and locate an aerial photographic image that includes bridges to the east of the city connecting to Biloxi along US 90. What is the condition of these bridges?
- Use the Katrina base map index to open an index map for New Orleans, LA (see Step 3), and create a satellite map to locate the intersection of Interstate Highway 10 and Orleans Avenue. Use the satellite map as a guide to locate an aerial photographic image that includes this intersection (Orleans Avenue is between Esplanade and Canal Street; use the bends in the Mississippi River to help match the satellite image to locations on the index map). Was the on-off ramp at this intersection useable when the image was acquired?
- The Mississippi River is the major waterbody in the dominant watershed in North America, and drains 41% of the United States. The lower Mississippi River supports a variety of wetland, open-water and floodplain habitats, but has been extensively modified for commercial shipping and other human activities. Because Louisiana is a major oil producing state with abundant crude oil reserves, extensive facilities have been developed to refine, store, and distribute petroleum products and other chemicals. Louisiana has the second highest petroleum refining capacity in the U.S. (after Texas). Many of these facilities are located on the lower Mississippi River or near the coast, and consequently are vulnerable to damage by severe storms. As of September 20, 2005, the National Ocean Service had detected visible sheening (the rainbow colored appearance of oil floating on water) in aerial images of approximately 80 spill sites. One such spill was reported from a refinery located near Cox Bay. Use an online mapping engine to locate Cox Bay. The aerial image that includes this area is located at http://ngs.woc.noaa.gov/storms/katrina/24727673.jpg. Do you see any evidence of sheening in this image? Where? (Note: sheening in these images looks sort of like confetti on the water surface). If you look at a satellite image of this area, you will see extensive tree cover along the Mississippi River shoreline. What do the aerial images show about the post-Katrina condition of these trees?