Contributor: Rob Gutro, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
In 2008, residents of Hispaniola experienced one of their worst hurricane seasons in recent memory. Hispaniola, the Caribbean island containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is located directly within the hurricane belt, and was pummeled by five tropical cyclones last year: Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike, and a tropical low over the Dominican Republic on Sept. 24 that would become Kyle after moving north. More than 800 people were reported dead or missing from these storms. Haiti occupies the western third of Hispaniola, while the Dominican Republic covers the eastern two-thirds. Hispaniola is the second-largest and most populated island of the Antilles. It’s located between Cuba to its west, and Puerto Rico to its east.
Hispaniola, famous as Columbus’ first stop in the “New World” in 1492, has often been the target of Atlantic hurricanes. In 1979 Hurricane David claimed more than a thousand lives. On this mountainous island, landslides and flooding are usually the major causes of destruction. “Located right in the center of ‘hurricane alley,’ Hispaniola has a long and brutal history of hurricane destruction,” notes climatologist Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, suffers from severe environmental degradation which makes hurricane landfalls especially damaging and deadly.”
NASA satellites tracked and recorded many aspects of the tropical cyclones that hit Hispaniola. Satellites including: Aqua, CloudSat, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), Landsat, QuikScat, Terra and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).
Lake Enriqullo, located in the southwestern corner of the Dominican Republic, increased in size from all of the rainfall from the 2008 tropical cyclones. Two satellite images captured by the Landsat satellite show the lake’s increase in size. Landsat is a joint NASA / U.S. Geological Survey series of Earth-observing satellites that’s been in operation since 1972. The image above was created by comparing a Landsat 7 image from August 2, 2007 with an image from August 20, 2008. The red area shows where the lake has expanded. The comparison reveals that the lake has increased in size, especially along its eastern- and westernmost edges, and the reduced surface area of Lake Enriqullo’s central island indicates greater water volume.
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Satellites offer a wealth of information pertinent for water and food security. Landsat has long been a foundational piece of the “Space for Ag” initiative.