The cartography of 9/11 New York

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 generated thousands of images of horror. Less well documented are the images built in the days after the attacks that helped emergency personnel understand the damage, the shifting rubble and the fires that continued to burn underground.

The Library of Congress has a page documenting the role maps played in managing the recovery effort. They are stunning and sad in their own way.

July 2001


September 15, 2001


September 17, 2001


September 17, 2001


The Library explains:

Traditional surveying and mapping techniques as well as modern electronic and remote sensing technologies were employed to aid the rescue and recovery operations, including remote sensing and aerial imagery, digital orthophotography, cutting-edge laser (light detection and ranging–LIDAR) technology with the capability of producing accurate elevation data, and thermal imagery for mapping hot spots in the rubble.

The LIDAR generated elevation data of the site and was used to “determine changes in the rubble pile and to create 3-D digital elevation models that demonstrated the extent of the destruction.”

The Library of Congress work also includes data from a a thermal sensor flown at 5,000 feet over Ground Zero that provided images to track underground fires that burned for weeks at the site.

It’s worth remembering that Google Earth didn’t exist back then. The ancient science of cartography has been reborn with the technology of the last decade. Let’s hope it’s not called on again to map destruction.

— Paul Tosto

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