NASA Tracks California’s Wildfires From Space and in the Air

Carmel and River Fire Burn Areas

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Captured by the ASTER instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, this false-color map reveals the burn location of the River and Carmel fires in Monterey County, California. Vegetation (consisting of crops) is displayed in red; the burn location (dark blue/gray) remains in the center of the image. Credit: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems

Earth-observing instruments on satellites and airplane are mapping the existing fires, offering information items to companies on the ground that are reacting to the emergency situation.

As California experiences among the worst wildfire seasons on record, NASA is leveraging its resources to assist. Scientists supporting the company’s Applied Sciences Disaster Program in the Earth Sciences Division are creating maps and other information items that track active fires and their smoke plumes while likewise determining locations that might be vulnerable to future threats.

“When disasters like this occur, we are able to swiftly respond to requests from our partners who need images and mapping data,” stated David Green, supervisor of the Disasters Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Likewise, in the aftermath of the fires, our researchers will use orbital and aerial data of the burn areas to help mitigate hazards such as landslides and mudslides.”

Most of the information originates from the many satellite instruments that pass over the state, such as the MOderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard the Aqua and Terra satellites, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments aboard the Suomi-NPP satellite, and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) instrument onboard the CALIPSO satellite.

Explore California Fires

This screenshot reveals an interactive 3D visualization that enables you to check out the height of smoke plumes from the California fires, utilizing information from Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

Another such instrument is the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument aboard the Terra satellite. Managed by the Japan Space Systems and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, ASTER views Earth’s surface area in noticeable, near-infrared, and thermal-infrared wavelengths, enabling functions such as the smoke and heat of fires to be determined and mapped. Such orbital information assist firefighting companies to much better find fires and direct teams there.

The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR), another JPL-handled instrument aboard Terra, is being utilized to much better comprehend how high and far the smoke particles travel. MISR information were likewise utilized to identify the quantity and kind of smoke particles within smoke plumes, utilizing the MISR Research Aerosol retrieval algorithm established by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The smoke plumes created by the California fires have actually taken a trip throughout large swaths of western North America in current weeks, impacting air quality and exposure. Airborne smoke particles can increase the danger of cardiovascular and breathing illness when breathed in, so tracking their spread supplies important info for regional public health authorities.

Researchers from NASA JPL and GSFC contributed in evaluating the satellite information, and the NASA Disasters Program and NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team collaborated straight with stakeholders from the California National Guard to assist in tracking the effects of the fires.

In addition to these satellite-based efforts, JPL’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument will fly today over the River and Carmel fires in Monterey County, the CZU Lightning Complex fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, and the LNU Lightning Complex fires in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Lake counties.

The UAVSAR instrument is connected to the bottom of a C-20A aircraft based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center near Palmdale, California. When flown consistently over a particular location, the instrument can determine small modifications in the ground surface area with severe precision. Scientists utilize the information to map ground elevation and research study surface-mass motion (along earthquake faults, for instance).

But UAVSAR can likewise be extremely efficient at mapping burn scars. The instrument’s radar signals bounce off plant life in a various method than they do bare, newly burned ground. Accurately determining the burn scar degree is very important to evaluating the long-lasting results of fire damage. A loss of plant life on hillsides can put a location at danger of mudslides throughout rainstorms.

In mix with other science instruments, the findings of these UAVSAR flyovers can assist define the spread of active fires while enabling a much better understanding of their longer-term results. Additional imaging video cameras will be flown with UAVSAR to supply a wider understanding of the fires.

“We will also fly our short wavelength infrared imager looking in the same direction as UAVSAR, which will see the fire through the smoke,” stated Andrea Donnellan, a primary research study researcher at JPL. “These combined data can help us better understand how these active fires are affecting the area.”

Data items are gotten ready for companies dealing with the ground in California, consisting of the California National Guard, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, California Geological Survey and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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