New Orleans Power Outages are Monitored via Satellite

Large swathes of Louisiana are experiencing electric power shortages owing to downed lines and destroyed transmission towers 3 days after Hurricane Ida brought intense wind, rain, and storm waves to the state. According to press reports, many residents are also without running water and gasoline, owing to damaged infrastructure.

The outages were mapped using satellite data by a team of scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as well as the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). The images above show evening light data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite on August 9 and 31. The Landsat 8 satellite provided the data for the base maps.

Landsat 8 is an Earth observation satellite deployed by the United States on February 11, 2013. It is the Landsat program’s eighth satellite and the seventh to achieve orbit successfully. It was initially known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), and it is a joint project between NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS). The launch vehicle was developed, mission systems engineered, and acquired by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center situated in Greenbelt, Maryland. In contrast, the USGS developed the ground systems and will oversee mission operations.  It consists of the Operational Land Imager (OLI) camera and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS), both of which can be utilized to monitor global warming and Earth surface temperature.

“The visual is devoid of clouds, which is a pleasant surprise. After an occurrence like this, it generally takes at least 48 hours for the sky to clear up enough,” said Miguel Román, who is a USRA researcher and the Black Marble Project’s head. “At this point in the aftermath, Black Marble photography is recording a lot of backup/diesel-power generation that utilities aren’t monitoring.”

According to statistics provided by PowerOutage.US from publicly available sources, more than 985,000 consumers in Louisiana were without power on September 1, 2021. (The number does not include individuals; it only includes homes and businesses.) In Mississippi, another 33,000 people were without electricity.

The day/night band on VIIRS is a low-light sensor that monitors light emissions and reflections. This skill has allowed researchers to discern between light intensity, types, and sources and watch how they change. The Black Marble team then processes the data to account for changes in the environment (like flooding), the Moon phase, and the atmosphere and filter out stray light from sources other than electric lights.

When working with night lighting, precision is essential. Moonlight, seasonal vegetation, clouds, pollution, and even the satellite’s orientation can modify how light is reflected and distort findings in raw, unedited photos.

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