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Satellite fire alarms keep watch on raging California fires

As wildfires ravage the dry California landscape, scientists at the University of Hawai'i have created a new tool to help keep tabs on fires and identify a blaze within minutes of the time it starts, even in

The alarm system, developed by Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology remote sensing scientists Luke Flynn, Andrew Harris, Eric Pilger, and colleagues, works by using satellite sensors that pick up heat coming from fires on the ground- 22 thousand miles below. Within 15 minutes, the location of a fire shows up in a map on the Internet, and the extent of the blaze is continually updated.

"We hope that this will be a great benefit to the U.S. forest service during the fire season," said Flynn, who has used the system to monitor burning in the Amazon for the past two years.

Last summer, Flynn tested the University of Hawai'i computer system in Southern California, using the satellite system to monitor Los Angeles fires. "There are a number of fires around Los Angeles each season because of the dry conditions and the Santa Ana winds, so that's where we started looking." The system worked well, and this July, Flynn turned his attention to the entire West Coast to monitor fires in all of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The researchers use Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the same satellites that meteorologists use to track weather. GOES's orbit follows the Earth's rotation, continually monitoring the same region on the Earth. Sensors aboard GOES pick up heat radiating from the Earth's surface, and when a hot spot suddenly shows up in a forested area, the computer fire alarm goes off.

"A great advantage of GOES," said Flynn, "is that it gets data from the same part of the Earth's surface every 15 minutes. But the real advantage is that the data gets out very quickly. Because of the specially developed computer program, you can tell immediately
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Contact: Luke Flynn and Donne Florence
flynn@pgd.hawaii.edu donne@hawaii.edu
808-956-3154 -8856
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
6-Sep-1999


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