In Colorado, a global flood observatory keeps a close watch on Harvey’s torrents

Aug 31, 2017

By Jason Plautz

BOULDER, COLORADO—While the media is gripped with pictures of waters swallowing freeways and pouring into homes and offices in southeastern Texas, geoscientist Robert Brakenridge is waiting for images of his own.

Brakenridge directs the Dartmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado in Boulder, which creates real-time maps of flooding events around the world. The lab, which he founded in 1993, uses satellite imagery to monitor changing water levels, and is experimenting with other methods—such as using satellite-based microwave sensors—to track river levels. Such efforts have not only helped identify areas that are prone to floods, but also can provide real-time help during emergencies, guiding responders away from impassable areas and toward people that need help.

During past disasters, the lab has provided public maps and geospatial data that have been put to humanitarian use, and worked with the World Food Program to guide food delivery convoys. During Hurricane Harvey, the lab has been part of daily conference calls in which government agencies, researchers, and other groups share data on the storm and work to develop new and more useful maps.

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