Aerial Videography Overflights of Forest Cover and Impact from Hurricane Sandy along the Atlantic Coast, USA

Science Center Objects

High resolution imagery (aerial videography) was obtained of Hurricane Sandy to assess forest damage by documenting disturbed canopy and downed trees. 

Seaplane asset with camera mount and portal to accomplish post-hurricane reconnaissance missions

Seaplane asset with camera mount and portal to accomplish post-hurricane reconnaissance missions

The Science Issue and Relevance: Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to coastal communities and surrounding wetlands mostly tied to an associated storm surge of record extent and impact. Federal lands, national parks, and wildlife refuges were intersected within a dense urban landscape where the impact to estuaries, wetlands, and coastal forests is more diffuse and difficult to quantify spatially without the aid of aerial photographic and satellite imagery. Access points to these land units and natural resources adjoining roads showed wide-area tree mortality and downed forests of unknown extent and severity. While wind strength and damage from Hurricane Sandy was greatest at the center’s landfall in New Jersey, inundation occurred along the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, eroding shoreline, splashing saltwater inland, and knocking down trees. High resolution imagery (aerial videography) was obtained to assess forest damage by documenting disturbed canopy and downed trees. DOI land managers require information on the extent of forest damage and its implications for management that may guide decisions about recovery, research and restoration.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: USGS has long used its seaplane asset with camera mount and portal to accomplish post-hurricane reconnaissance missions for the benefit of rapid assessment of damages to natural and cultural resources. A flight plan was implemented to conduct low altitude videography over select DOI land units along the East Coast from North Carolina to New Jersey to capture high-resolution imagery of tree falls and forest disturbance. The imagery scale of video frames was calibrated to delineate whole trees and forest gaps suitable for determining tree fall compass direction and forest cover. Collective video frame analyses were conducted to achieve an understanding of spatial impact at the landscape scale and causal relations of treefall by wind and surge. A USGS web portal hosts the raw image files for public access and use by other USGS scientists and agency partners where these referenced photos document Sandy impact and post-storm landscape condition for future studies of forest recovery and succession.

Aerial Reconnaissance Imagery of Hurricane Sandy

Aerial reconnaissance imagery of Hurricane Sandy

Future Steps: The project will produce an understanding of the interaction of storm surge tides on soil liquefaction and wind force and direction that can be applied in explicit landscape simulation models to improve predictive modeling of future ecosystem consequences under climate change and increasing hurricane frequency and intensity.