Before and After Satellite Images Show Devastating Floods

By Tom Yulsman | February 19, 2014 1:29 am
U.K. devastating floods

This animation consists of two false-color satellite images acquired before and after recent storms had caused devastating flooding in the United Kingdom. In this color scheme, water appears black. (Images: NASA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Two days ago, I put together an animation highlighting the severity of California’s epic drought. Today it occurred to me that I could do something similar to show what the devastating floods in the United Kingdom look like from space.

The animation above shows what I came up with. It consists of two false-color images of part of England captured by NASA’s Terra satellite, the first on Nov. 10, 2013, and the second on Feb. 16, 2014 —  after the U.K. had been lashed by repeated storms.

I chose this particular false-color scheme (the MODIS instrument’s 7-2-1 combination) because of the way it handles vegetation and water. Vegetation turns up very bright green, and water black. The resulting contrast does a great job of showing flooding.

One of the flooded areas is called Somerset Levels. Located in southwestern England, much of the land here is barely above sea level. Once marshlands, they’ve been drained for use in agriculture. But as NASA’s Earth Observatory put it in a post yesterday, “the marshy character of the land still reasserts itself on occasion.”

As it has apparently done here, with a vengeance. In the image from Feb. 16th, areas that had previously been just green suddenly turn black. By mid-February, in fact an estimated 66 square miles of land had flooded, and 150 homes were swamped.

Look elsewhere in the image and you’ll see the same effect.

The Earth Observatory featured an interactive before-and-after graphic which shows the Somerset Levels area closer up than my animation above. Here’s a screenshot:

Before and after U.K. devastating floods

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

The most recent image is on the left. It’s also from this past Feb. 16, but this one was captured by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s Earth-Observing-1 satellite. The comparison image on the right was acquired by Landsat 8 on November 4, 2013. To use the interactive slider, click on the image. You’ll exit this post and head over the Earth Observatory site. But please make sure to come back!



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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