NASA data helps pinpoint wildfire threats

NASA data from earth observation satellites is helping build the capability to determine when and where wildfires may occur by providing details on plant conditions, according to a recent study.

While information from sophisticated satellites and instruments have recently allowed scientists to quickly determine the exact location of wildfires and to monitor their movement, this geoscience research offers a step toward predicting their development and could complement data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellites used to help calculate fire potential across much of the United States.

By studying shrublands prone to wildfire in southern California, scientists found that NASA earth observations accurately detected and mapped two key factors: plant moisture and fuel condition - or greenness - defined as the proportion of live to dead plant material. Moisture levels and fuel condition, combined with the weather, play a major role in the ignition, rate of spread, and intensity of wildfires.

"This represents an advance in our ability to predict wildfires using data from recently launched instruments," said lead author Dar Roberts, University of California-Santa Barbara. "We have come a long way in just the past 5 to 10 years and continue to gather much better data on the variables critical in wildfire development and spread."

To find out how well NASA satellites could detect these factors, researchers first sampled live fuel moisture, a critical measure for assessing fire danger, from several different plant species in sites across Los Angeles County, Calif. This ground-based data, collected by the Los Angeles County Fire Department over a five year period, were then compared to greenness and moisture measures from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer. The space-based data were often closely linked to the field measurements, suggesting the instrume

Contact: Rob Gutro
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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