NASA helps track wildfires from space - Tucson News Now

NASA helps track wildfires from space

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Portions of this article are from NASA.

The 2013 fire season has been destructive and deadly, plus it is not over yet. 

Active wildfires continue to burn in Arizona and all across the western U.S.

In June of this year, 19 wildland firefighters lost their lives after a wildfire suddenly turned directions and blocked an escape route in Yarnell, Arizona. 

As of August 8th, NASA says 2.5 million acres have burned in the United States. 

One of the most destructive fires is pictured below. 

This is the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, which destroyed over 500 homes. 

According to Don Smurthwaite, spokesperson with the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho. "Fire seasons are getting longer, western regions are getting drier, and more people are living closer to fire-prone areas."

U.S. flag hangs in front of a burning structure in Black Forest, Colo., June 12, 2013.
A U.S. flag hangs in front of a burning structure in Black Forest, Colo., June 12, 2013. The Black Forest Fire started June 11, 2013, northeast of Colorado Springs, Colo., burning scores of homes and forcing large-scale evacuations.
Image Credit: DoD photo by Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, U.S. Air Force

satellite image of Black Forest fire burn scar
False-color image of the Black Forest burn scar from NASA's Terra satellite, June 21, 2013. The darkest gray and black areas are the most severely burned. Unburned forest patches are bright red. Unburned grasslands are pink. Buildings, roads, and other developed areas are light gray or white.
Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory 

Climate change is a possible driver to a longer, more severe fire season. 

"Over the last 30 years we have seen an increase in hot and dry conditions that promote fire activity," said Doug Morton, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "And across the western U.S. and Alaska, satellites show an increase in the area that burns each year over that same time period."

"For more than a decade, instruments on Terra and Aqua, two of NASA's flagship Earth-observing satellites, have scanned the surface of our planet for fires. An instrument on both satellites, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), has revolutionized what scientists know about fire's role in land cover change, ecosystem processes and the global carbon cycle by allowing researchers to map characteristics of the global distribution of fires in remarkable detail." says NASA. 

According to NASA "Circling the globe every 99 minutes, the two MODIS sensors provide four daily observations of active fires that are relayed to forest managers worldwide. The coordinates of active fires detected by MODIS are sent by text message, often within an hour after the satellite overpass, so agencies responsible for land management can assess ongoing fire activity and respond accordingly."

NASA also maintains instruments aboard other satellites that help to track forest fire.  

The U.S. Forest Service maintains a Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) in Salt Lake City to process the data sent back from the satellites for use out in the field.

NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) also partnered to create the Landfire project.

Landfire is short for Landscape Fire and Resources Management Planning Tools.

The USGS uses the satellite data to create maps showing things like vegetation type and health, which can be factors in determining how a fire will behave.   

According to NASA the Landfire project was "started the program in 2003 after an intense U.S. wildfire season highlighted the need for unbiased information to guide decision makers as they allocate resources."

The goal of all these partnerships and innovative uses of data is to ultimately protect people and property from destructive and deadly wildfires. 

For NASA's smoke and fires website, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/fires

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