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Space geodesy

Subsidence and flooding in New Orleans

A subsidence map of the city offers insight into the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina.


It has long been recognized that New Orleans is subsiding and is therefore susceptible to catastrophic flooding. Here we present a new subsidence map for the city, generated from space-based synthetic-aperture radar measurements, which reveals that parts of New Orleans underwent rapid subsidence in the three years before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. One such area is next to the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet (MRGO) canal, where levees failed during the peak storm surge: the map indicates that this weakness could be explained by subsidence of a metre or more since their construction.

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Figure 1: Map showing rate of subsidence for permanent scatterers in New Orleans and vicinity during 2002–05.
Figure 2: Relation between range change of permanent scatterers and elevation.


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Correspondence to Timothy H. Dixon.

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Competing interests

A.F. and F.N. are employees of TRE, a company based in Milan, Italy. TRE supplied key software for the analysis and gave technical advice on some aspects of the data interpretation, such as how uncertainties are calculated.

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Dixon, T., Amelung, F., Ferretti, A. et al. Subsidence and flooding in New Orleans. Nature 441, 587–588 (2006).

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