PUERTO RICO – In September 2017, the Caribbean was battered by the combined force of two massive hurricanes; first came Irma followed two weeks later by Maria. The International Institute of Tropical Forestry began post-hurricane work within days of Hurricane Irma, which occurred on September 6, 2017. Hurricane Maria occurred on September 20th and the Institute began post-Maria work on September 23, 2017.
Immediately after the passage of the Hurricane Maria, the Institute’s priorities were focused on communicating with employees, establishing their location, and ensuring their safety and well-being. Since then, follow-up efforts have been focused on assessing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure, assessing and reestablishing long-term monitoring activities, developing proposals for research activities, initiating research and outreach activities to aid in the recovery efforts and documenting all lessons learned as a result of the storm, its effect on the island and recovery events over the last six months.
To date, specific research and development projects and efforts across the island include:
Urban lands (San Juan Metropolitan Area): IITF is working in collaboration with the Urban Resilience to Extreme Events Sustainability Research Network and the University of Puerto Rico in multiple initiatives to support hurricane recovery and resilience-building efforts in urban communities. From disaster to transformation: Lessons from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane María is a program designed to offer workshop spaces for governmental and community leaders, practitioners and academics, to reflect on lessons learned from the disaster and identify immediate challenges and solutions to promote resilience to extreme events in San Juan and Puerto Rico in general.
IITF also published various information materials on resilience-related topics such as fact sheets and articles. With funding from the Smart and Connected Communities program of the National Science Foundation, the Institute is working with residents, the Municipality of San Juan, and other civic actors to design and implement community resilience hubs that use data and visualization technologies to support and connect communities in addressing local issues and improve resilience.
Assessing forest structure (Puerto Rico): Airborne Remote Sensing Campaign: Back in March 2017, the Department of Energy Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments Tropics project supported airborne remote sensing of approximately 12% of Puerto Rico focusing on forests. This mission was carried out by the NASA Goddard Lidar, Thermal, and Hyperspectral image system. Data acquired at approximately 1 m resolution will be used to understand forest structure, canopy chemistry and plant traits across Puerto Rican forests.
Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, IITF solicited support to repeat the flights to estimate hurricane structural damage and changes in canopy chemistry and traits. USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Interior recovery efforts (with support from FEMA) and NASA internal funding will support repeat flights on the original flightlines.
Funds have been transferred and new data acquisition flights began on April 20, 2018. Data will be freely available following initial processing and quality control.