Aug. 21, 2001 U.S. firefighters and land managers are using the most modern NASA-satellite data to combat wildfires. NASA's Terra satellite provides a view of fires across the entire United States, which helps fire experts manage fires more effectively, both during and after wildfire events. The effort is a collaboration between NASA, NOAA, the University of Maryland and the USDA Forest Service.
The Terra satellite beams daily images of western U.S. wildfires to NASA within a few hours of the time that it passes over the region. These images, showing the locations of active fires, are transmitted to the Forest Service. When the Forest Service's own direct broadcast receiving stations are completed in October, this will reduce the transmission time to minutes. Images from Terra's Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument will become a regular part of the Forest Service's fire monitoring toolkit.
"NASA remains deeply committed to working cooperatively with its sister agencies to monitor and combat wildfires across the nation. Our investment in the Terra Earth Observing System is starting to pay tremendous dividends to the American taxpayer," said Ghassem Asrar, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Office of Earth Science.
In order to use MODIS data to tackle forest fires, a complex communications network is maintained between NASA, the University of Maryland and the Forest Service. The three institutions are integrated under the Rapid Response Project. Rob Sohlberg at the University of Maryland's Department of Geography in College Park, Md., leads the Rapid Response Project with Jacques Descloitres at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. This program was created in response to the 2000 fire season, with its extensive wildfires in Idaho and Montana.
By October 2001, the Forest Service will have the capability to produce their own MODIS fire images within minutes of a Terra overpass. "The Active Fire Maps offer the potential for understanding the 'big picture' when working on resource allocations decisions," said Alice Forbes, Deputy Director for Forest Service Fire and Aviation Operations at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). "The maps can also help the public understand where the fires are located, and give them a look at the burned areas after fire season."
The University and NASA developed all of the needed software, which will be installed at the Forest Service's data receiving station. The Forest Service developed corresponding software that creates the Active Fire Maps from the Terra data using standard mapping techniques.
The Forest Service's Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) in Salt Lake City, Utah, provides development, support and application of remote sensing technologies and techniques. Currently, the Forest Service is building a MODIS processing center in Salt Lake City to generate near-real-time images of western wildfires. However, the Forest Service will still receive imagery of the eastern U.S. from the University and NASA.
Keith Lannom, the Operations Program Leader at RSAC, stated, "The University of Maryland sends MODIS images and active fire location information daily to RSAC staff who are overlaying state boundaries and topographical features on the images to best determine where fires are occurring. These maps show current active fire areas in near-real-time on the Internet."
The maps show daily active fires, and areas that were burned during previous days. These maps will be used for strategic asset allocation when fighting wildfires. Advanced products to assist the Burned-Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) teams are also being developed from Terra data. The BAER team consists of soil scientists, hydrologists, wildlife specialists and other scientists. They use burn severity maps-derived from satellite and ground measurements-to help them take measures that will prevent further erosion, soil loss and adverse impacts to water quality. It is anticipated that Terra data will provide a quick look, which can then be refined on the ground. The maps will also help scientists identify critical wildlife habitat affected by the fire and facilitate reforesting an area.
Wei Min Hao, the Project Leader of the Fire Chemistry Project at the Forest Service's Fire Science Laboratory in Montana, is developing a MODIS aerosol product to track smoke dispersed by wildfires, and to determine the impact that it has on regional air quality. Hao said, "During fires where there are large amounts of smoke, reconnaissance planes that normally map fires can't fly into an area, but MODIS can provide those pictures from space." Dr. Yoram Kaufman from NASA is working with Dr. Hao on these products.
The Terra spacecraft is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, a long-term research effort being conducted to determine how human-induced and natural changes affect our global environment.
The MODIS Land Rapid Response System Web site can be found at: http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov
The MODIS Rapid Response Fire Maps can be accessed through the National Interagency Fire Center Web site (click on RSAC Fire Maps link) at: http://www.nifc.gov/firemaps.html
This release and all accompanying visuals are available at: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/MediaResources/Wildfires
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The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center--EOS Project Science Office.
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