Landsat Tracks Urban Change and Flood Risk

By Marc Boucher
Status Report
March 24, 2014
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Landsat Tracks Urban Change and Flood Risk
Landsat Tracks Urban Change and Flood Risk.

Landsat data, which can identify areas of urbanization, are used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a key indicator of sites where the agency should further investigate the potential for flooding.
With its archive of images capturing sprawling cities and new developments, Landsat can help FEMA track how building and construction is impacting an area’s landscape.

Earth-observing Landsat satellites have been capturing images of the planet’s surface since 1972. Landsat 8 is the newest satellite in the program, a joint effort between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. It launched Feb. 11, 2013, and collects more than 400 images per day. New and archived Landsat data are available free to the public over the internet – and researchers have put the data to a multitude of uses. One is called the National Urban Change Indicator, or NUCI, created by MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates, LTD. It’s the results from a process that mines Landsat images over a 27-year period to identify areas of “permanent change,” where soil has been paved over for parking lots or other concrete structures.

NUCI results act as a red flag for FEMA, helping the agency focus its mapping efforts and budget. If FEMA’s maps identify a high risk of floods for a certain community, residents can take action, including elevating houses, building flood barricades, and more.

To learn more about Landsat:

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