Puerto Rican Hurricane Maria disaster, new studies


This 30 November 2017 video says about itself:

Through Our Eyes: Life in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria | NowThis

Here’s a glimpse at what life is like in post-hurricane Puerto Rico, where American citizens are still without clean water, food, or electricity.

From NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA:

New look at Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria

December 10, 2018

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico head-on as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 155 miles per hour in September 2017, it damaged homes, flooded towns, devastated the island’s forests and caused the longest electricity black-out in U.S. history.

Two new NASA research efforts delve into Hurricane Maria‘s far-reaching effects on the island’s forests as seen in aerial surveys and on its residents’ energy and electricity access as seen in data from space. The findings, presented Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, illustrate the staggering scope of Hurricane Maria’s damage to both the natural environment and communities.

An Island Gone Dark

At night, Earth is lit up in bright strings of roads dotted with pearl-like cities and towns as human-made artificial light takes center stage. During Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s lights went out.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, research physical scientist Miguel Román at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and his colleagues developed neighborhood-scale maps of lighting in communities across Puerto Rico. To do this, they combined daily satellite data of Earth at night from the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite with USGS/NASA Landsat data and OpenStreetMap data. They monitored where and when the electricity grid was restored, and analyzed the demographics and physical attributes of neighborhoods longest affected by the power outages.

A disproportionate share of long-duration power failures occurred in rural communities. The study found that 41 percent of Puerto Rico’s rural municipalities experienced prolonged periods of outage, compared to 29 percent of urban areas. When combined, power failures across Puerto Rico’s rural communities accounted for 61 percent of the estimated cost of 3.9 billion customer-interruption hours, six months after Hurricane Maria. These regions are primarily rural in the mountainous interior of the island where residents were without power for over 120 days. However, even more heavily populated areas had variable recovery rates between neighborhoods, with suburbs often lagging behind urban centers.

The difference between urban and rural recovery rates is in part because of the centralized set-up of Puerto Rico’s energy grid that directs all power to prioritized locations rather than based on proximity to the nearest power plant, Román said. Areas were prioritized, in part, based on their population densities, which is a disadvantage to rural areas. Within cities, detached houses and low-density suburban areas were also without power longer.

“It’s not just the electricity being lost,” Román said. “Storm damage to roads, high-voltage power lines and bridges resulted in cascading failures across multiple sectors, making many areas inaccessible to recovery efforts. So people lost access to other basic services like running water, sanitation, and food for extended time periods.”

The absence of electricity as seen in the night lights data offers a new way to visualize storm impacts to vulnerable communities across the entirety of Puerto Rico on a daily basis. It’s an indicator visible from space that critical infrastructure, beyond power, may be damaged as well, including access to fuel and other necessary supplies. The local communities with long-duration power outages also correspond to areas that reported lack of access to medical resources.

The next step for Román when looking at future disasters is to go beyond night lights data and sync it up with updated information on local infrastructure — roads, bridges, internet connectivity, clean water sources — so that when the lights are out, disaster responders can cross-reference energy data with other infrastructure bottlenecks that needs to be solved first, which would help identify at-risk communities and allocate resources.

The Buzz-Cut Forest

Hurricane Maria’s lashing rain and winds also transformed Puerto Rico’s lush tropical rainforest landscape. Research scientist Doug Morton of Goddard was part of the team of NASA researchers who had surveyed Puerto Rico’s forests six months before the storm. The team used Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral, and Thermal (G-LiHT) Airborne Imager, a system designed to study the structure and species composition of forests. Shooting 600,000 laser pulses per second, G-LiHT produces a 3D view of the forest structure in high resolution, showing individual trees in high detail from the ground to treetop. In April 2018, post-Maria, the team went back and surveyed the same tracks as in 2017.

Comparing the before and after data, the team found that 40 to 60 percent of the tall trees that formed the canopy of the forest were damaged, either snapped in half, uprooted by strong winds or lost large branches.

“Maria gave the island’s forests a haircut,” said Morton. “The island lost so many large trees that the overall height of forests was shortened by one-third. We basically saw 60 years’ worth of what we would otherwise consider natural treefall disturbances happen in one day.”

The extensive damage to Puerto Rico’s forests had far-reaching effects, Morton said. Fallen trees that no longer stabilize soil on slopes with their roots as well as downed branches can contribute to landslides and debris flows, increased erosion, and poor water quality in streams and rivers where sediments build up.

In addition, the lidar surveys across the island corroborate findings presented at AGU by ecologist Maria Uriarte at Columbia University in New York City, who looked at tree death and damage rates in ground plots at the National Science Foundation Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research site. Uriarte found certain tree species were more susceptible to the high wind damage, while others such as the palms, survived at higher rates, along with shrubs and shorter trees in the understory.

Morton and Uriarte will continue to follow the fate of Puerto Rican forests as they recover from hurricane damages using laser technology from the ground to make detailed measurements of forest regrowth.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found unprecedentedly high levels of nitrate, an essential plant nutrient, in streams and watersheds of Puerto Rico for a year after two consecutive major hurricanes in 2017. This high amount of nitrate may have important climate change implications that could harm forest recovery and threaten ecosystems along Puerto Rico’s coastline by escalating algal blooms and dead zones: here.

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Trump bans helping devastated Puerto Rico


This 13 September 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Trump Is Now DENYING That 3,000 Puerto Ricans Died In Hurricane Maria

Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t sink any lower with his denial of reality, he comes along and Tweets that nearly 3,000 American citizens DIDN’T die during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and that somehow this death toll number is the fault of the Democrats. This is reality-denial the likes of which we’ve never seen from the Oval Office, as Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins explains.

By Jonathan Swan in the USA today:

Trump wants no more relief funds for Puerto Rico

President Trump doesn’t want to give Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria, White House officials have told congressional appropriators and leadership. This is because he claims, without evidence, that the island’s government is using federal disaster relief money to pay off debt.

The big picture: Trump also told senior officials last month that he would like to claw back some of the federal money Congress has already set aside for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery, claiming mismanagement.

The White House didn’t comment on this reporting.

  • Between the lines: Trump won’t be able to take away disaster funds that have already been set aside by Congress, and sources close to the situation tell me the White House hasn’t asked Republican lawmakers to do so. But Trump could refuse to sign a future spending bill that would make more money available for Puerto Rico‘s recovery.

Behind the scenes: In late October, Trump grew furious after reading a Wall Street Journal article by Matt Wirz, according to five sources familiar with the president’s reaction. The article said that “Puerto Rico bond prices soared … after the federal oversight board that runs the U.S. territory’s finances released a revised fiscal plan that raises expectations for disaster funding and economic growth.”

  • Sources with direct knowledge told me Trump concluded — without evidence — that Puerto Rico’s government was scamming federal disaster funds to pay down its debt.
  • On Oct. 23, Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Puerto Rico’s “inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations.”
  • At the same time, White House officials told congressional leadership that Trump was inflamed by the Wall Street Journal article and “doesn’t want to include additional Puerto Rico funding in further spending bills”, according to a congressional leadership aide. “He was unhappy with what he believed was mismanagement of money”, the aide said.
  • A second source said Trump misinterpreted the Journal article, concluding falsely that the Puerto Rican government was using disaster relief funds to pay down debt.
  • A third source said Trump told top officials in an October meeting that he wanted to claw back congressional funds that had previously been set aside for Puerto Rico’s recovery. “He’s always been pissed off by Puerto Rico“, the source added.

Trump’s wariness about sending federal money to Puerto Rico dates back to the beginning of his administration. In early 2017, when negotiating the omnibus spending bill, Democratic congressional leaders were pushing Trump to bail out Puerto Rico’s underfunded health care system that serves the island’s poorest citizens.

  • Trump insisted in the negotiations that he wouldn’t approve anything close to the level of funds Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats requested, according to two sources involved. (And he didn’t.)

The bottom line: Congress took steps to keep disaster relief funds from being used to pay down the island’s debt, and as Bloomberg reported at the time, “neither the island’s leaders — nor the board installed by the U.S. to oversee its budget — are proposing using disaster recovery aid to directly pay off bondholders or other lenders.”

Why it matters: Congress will have to pass a new package of spending bills in December. Hill sources say the package may include a bill to send more federal money to disaster areas. Trump has told aides he believes too much federal money has already gone to Puerto Rico — more than $6 billion for Hurricane Maria so far, according to FEMA. (The government projects more than $55 billion from FEMA’s disaster relief fund will ultimately be spent on Maria’s recovery.)

  • In comparison, per the NYT, “when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Congress approved $10 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency four days later, and another $50 billion six days later. The federal government is still spending money on Katrina assistance, more than 12 years after the storm’s landfall.”

Trump often blames Democratic-controlled states for the fallout from their natural disasters. On Saturday, Trump threatened “no more Fed payments” for California to deal with its deadly fires unless the state addresses what Trump claims is “gross mismanagement of the forests.”

  • Go deeper:

  • Puerto Rico’s forests and Hurricane Maria


    This NASA video says about itself:

    NASA Surveys Hurricane Damage to Puerto Rico’s Forests

    11 July 2018

    From NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA:

    NASA surveys hurricane damage to Puerto Rico’s forests

    July 11, 2018

    On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico with winds of up to 155 miles per hour and battering rain that flooded towns, knocked out communications networks and destroyed the power grid. In the rugged central mountains and the lush northeast, Maria unleashed its fury as fierce winds completely defoliated the tropical forests and broke and uprooted trees. Heavy rainfall triggered thousands of landslides that mowed over swaths of steep mountainsides.

    In April a team of NASA scientists traveled to Puerto Rico with airborne instrumentation to survey damages from Hurricane Maria to the island’s forests.

    “From the air, the scope of the hurricane’s damages was startling”, said NASA Earth scientist Bruce Cook, who led the campaign. “The dense, interlocking canopies that blanketed the island before the storm were reduced to a tangle of downed trees and isolated survivors, stripped of their branches.”

    NASA’s Earth-observing satellites monitor the world’s forests to detect seasonal changes in vegetation cover or abrupt forest losses from deforestation, but at spatial and time scales that are too coarse to see changes. To get a more detailed look, NASA flew an airborne instrument called Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral and Thermal Imager, or G-LiHT. From the belly of a small aircraft flying one thousand feet above the trees, G-LiHT collected multiple measurements of forests across the island, including high-resolution photographs, surface temperatures and the heights and structure of the vegetation.

    The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA provided funding for the airborne campaign.

    The team flew many of the same tracks with G-LiHT as it had in the spring of 2017, months before Hurricane Maria made landfall, as part of a study of how tropical forests regrow on abandoned agricultural land. The before-and-after comparison shows forests across the island still reeling from the hurricane’s impact.

    Using lidar, a ranging system that fires 600,000 laser pulses per second, the team measured changes in the height and structure of the Puerto Rican forests. The damage is palpable. Forests near the city of Arecibo on the northern side of the island grow on limestone hills with little soil to stabilize trees. As a result, the hurricane snapped or uprooted 60 percent of the trees there. In the northeast, on the slopes of El Yunque National Forest, the hurricane trimmed the forests, reducing their average height by one-third.

    Data from G-LiHT is not only being used to capture the condition of the island’s forests; it is an important research tool for scientists who are tracking how the forests are changing as they recover from such a major event.

    “[Hurricane] Maria pressed the reset button on many of the different processes that develop forests over time”, said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and G-LiHT co-investigator. “Now we’re watching a lot of those processes in fast-forward speeds as large areas of the island are recovering, with surviving trees and new seedlings basking in full sunlight.”

    Among the areas that the team flew over extensively was El Yunque National Forest, which Hurricane Maria struck at full force. The U.S. Forest Service manages El Yunque, a tropical rainforest, as well as its designated research plots, which were established in the late 1930s. University and government scientists perform all manner of research, including measuring individual trees to track their growth, counting flowers and seeds to monitor reproduction, and analyzing soil samples to track the nutrients needed for plant growth.

    One important assessment of a tree’s health is its crown, which comprises the overall shape of a treetop, with its branches, stems and leaves. Hurricane winds can heavily damage tree crowns and drastically reduce the number of leaves for creating energy through photosynthesis.

    “Just seven months after the storm, surviving trees are flushing new leaves and regrowing branches in order to regain their ability to harvest sunlight through photosynthesis”, Morton said, while also noting that the survival of damaged trees in the years ahead is an open question.

    While it’s difficult to assess tree crowns in detail from the ground, from the air G-LiHT’s lidar instrument can derive the shape and structure of all of the trees in its flight path. The airborne campaign over Puerto Rico was extensive enough to provide information on the structure and composition of the overall forest canopy, opening up a range of research possibilities.

    “Severe storms like Maria will favor some species and destroy others”, said Maria Uriarte, an ecologist at Columbia University who has studied El Yunque National Forest for 15 years and is working with the NASA team to validate flight data with ground observations. “Plot level studies tell us how this plays out in a small area but the damage at any particular place depends on proximity to the storm’s track, topography, soils and the characteristics of each forest patch. This makes it hard to generalize to other forests in the island.”

    But with G-LiHT data scientists can study the storm impacts over a much larger area, Uriarte continued. “What’s really exciting is that we can ask a completely different set of questions,” she said. “Why does one area have more damage than others? What species are being affected the most across the island?”

    Understanding the state of the forest canopy also has far-reaching implications for the rest of the ecosystem, as tree cover is critical to the survival of many species. For example, birds such as the native Iguaca parrot use the canopy to hide from predator hawks. The canopy also creates a cooler, humid environment that is conducive to the growth of tree seedlings and lizards and frogs that inhabit the forest floor. Streams that are cooled by the dense shade also make them habitable for a wide diversity of other organisms.

    Yet by that same token, other plants and animals that were once at a disadvantage are now benefiting from changes brought about by the loss of canopy.

    “Some lizards live in the canopy, where they thrive in drier, more sunlit conditions”, said herpetologist Neftali Ríos-López, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao Campus. “Because of the hurricane those drier conditions that were once exclusive to the canopy are now extended down to the forest floor. As a result, those animals are better adapted to those conditions and have started displacing and substituting animals that are adapted to the once cooler conditions.”

    “Who are the winners and losers in this new environment? That’s an important question in all of this”, said NASA’s Doug Morton. During the airborne campaign, he spent several days in the research plots of El Yunque taking three-dimensional images of the forest floor to complement the data from G-LiHT. He said it’s clear that the palms, which weathered the hurricane winds better than other broad-leafed trees, are among the current beneficiaries of the now sun-drenched forest. And that’s not a bad thing.

    “Palm trees are going to form a major component of the canopy of this forest for the next decade or more, and in some ways they’ll help to facilitate the recovery of the rest of this forest”, Morton said. “Palms provide a little bit of shade and protection for the flora and fauna that are recolonizing the area. That’s encouraging.”

    The implications of this research extend beyond the forest ecosystem, both in time and space, said Grizelle Gonzalez, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and project lead for the research plots in El Yunque. As an example, she pointed out that the hurricane caused the mountain streams to flood and fill with sediment that ultimately flowed into the ocean. Sediment can negatively impact the quality of the drinking water as well as the coral communities that fisheries depend on for both subsistence and commerce.

    “It’s beautiful to see that so many federal agencies came together to collaborate on this important work because forests play a key role in everything from biodiversity and the economy to public health”, Gonzalez said.

    G-LiHT data also has global implications. In July, the team heads to Alaska to continue surveying the vast forestland in the state’s interior to better understand the impacts of accelerated Arctic warming on boreal forests, which, in turn, play a key role in cooling Earth’s climate by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. “G-LiHT allows us to collect research data at the scale of individual trees across broad landscapes,” Morton said. “Forests from Alaska to Puerto Rico are constantly changing in response to climate warming and disturbances such as fire and hurricanes.”

    Global warming will increase the severity of hurricanes: here.

    TRUMP PRAISES MARIA RESPONSE DESPITE HUGE DEATH TOLL Trump praised his administration for its controversial response to Hurricane Maria, calling it “an incredible unsung success.” Puerto Rican authorities recently increased the death toll linked to the storm from 64 to 2,975. [HuffPost]