Watercolor Seas in the Wake of Hurricane Ian

Watercolor Seas in the Wake of Hurricane Ian
Watercolor Seas in the Wake of Hurricane Ian

On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian barreled into Florida’s southwestern coast as a powerful category-4 storm with sustained winds of about 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour. But wind was not the only destructive component of the storm; water was also a major factor, in the form of storm surge, relentless downpours, and flooding.

The redistribution of water is evident in these natural-color satellite images, which show colorful swirls of sediment that the storm stirred up in Florida’s coastal waters. The turquoise color is likely sediment that the storm Ian lifted from the seafloor as it neared the coast. Brown water closer to shore is likely colored by sediment from land, carried by rivers and runoff flowing into the ocean.

The image (right) was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite on October 1, 2022, a few days after landfall. For comparison, the second image (left) shows a more typical view of the region’s coastal waters on September 22, 2022.

Notice that prior to the storm, there is already some color in the water. Smaller amounts of suspended sediments were likely present, but much of the color is due to light reflecting off sea grass beds, the sandy seafloor, and coral reefs (especially around the Bahamas). Some of the darkest colors near rivers might be due to tannins from decaying vegetation.

The image above, acquired by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 mission on September 30, 2022, shows a detailed view of the coastline near Fort Myers, Florida. Parts of this coastline and barrier islands were among some of the hardest hit, with flooding from storm surge that likely measured at least 6 feet (2 meters) deep.

Almost one week after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, swirls of sediment were still apparent on October 4.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview and modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2022) processed by the European Space Agency. Story by Kathryn Hansen.

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