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After Katrina: A Story of Survival and Science
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Lissa Lyncker stands in knee-deep water as her boat floats in the background
Image above: Lissa Lyncker studies blue crabs that live in Lake Pontchartrain. Credit: NASA

Just north of New Orleans, Louisiana, is a large lake. It's called Lake Pontchartrain. The name sounds like "ponch-a-train." Lissa Lyncker grew up near the lake. It has always been a part of her life. Most of her family members are fishermen. They catch shrimp, crab and fish in the lake.

Lissa is a student at the University of New Orleans. The lake is still a big part of her life. She travels on the lake in her boat looking for blue crabs. She does this for a school science project.

Why is Lissa interested in blue crabs? They are important to the lake. They're a part of the lake's natural food chain. Blue crabs are also important to Lissa's family. Her family makes money by catching and selling them. A lot of people like to eat blue crabs.

A map of Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans and the surrounding area
Image above: The water in Lake Pontchartrain is salt water. Credit: Wikimedia

Lissa rides her boat all around the lake. She counts how many blue crabs she finds at different spots. The crab count helps people plan projects that keep the lake healthy. To do this, they need to know the number and location of blue crabs and other fish. Then they plan ways to make the water cleaner. Clean water increases the number of fish in the lake.

Lissa also looks at pictures of the lake taken by satellites. A satellite is a machine in space that orbits Earth. That means the satellite goes around Earth again and again. The pictures show how water is moving in the lake. The way the water moves tells Lissa how the crabs end up where they do.

It's fun to count crabs and look at pictures of the lake. But sometimes it makes Lissa think about what happened in 2005. That year, a strong hurricane named Katrina moved across the Gulf of Mexico. The storm grew stronger as it headed toward New Orleans. Everyone was told to leave the city and the places around it, so they wouldn’t get hurt. Before leaving, Lissa helped her family get ready for the storm. They boarded up windows so the wind wouldn’t break them. The family also tied down their fishing boats to keep them from being blown around.

Related Resources
+ Elementary GLOBE: Discoveries at Willow Creek

+ Previous Earth Explorers Articles
Katrina brought strong winds and heavy rain. The storm caused Lake Pontchartrain to overflow. The lake spilled over into New Orleans and nearby areas. A lot of houses were ruined. Many in Lissa's family lost their homes. Lissa and her mom were lucky. Their house was damaged on the outside. But the inside was OK.

There was a lot of work to do after the storm. Lissa had to take time out from school and her science project. She helped her mom clean up their house. Family members who had lost their homes moved in with Lissa and her mom. Lissa helped other friends and family members recover, too.

Now, Lissa is back looking for crabs in the lake. The hurricane stopped her project for several months. But there was nothing she could do about that. And she wasn't the only one affected by Katrina. Most people in New Orleans had to stop what they were doing when the storm hit.

"I came back to New Orleans and began again just like everyone else. What else could we do?" she said.

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies