Satellite data helps fight forest fires

NASA's MODIS site

The Forest Service, NASA and the University of Maryland are pooling their efforts to produce satellite images to help combat the wildfires raging across several Western states.

The three institutions are part of the Rapid Response Project, which provides fast access to global data about fires collected by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Terra satellite.

MODIS beams images of wildfire locations to the agency within a few hours of the time that it passes over a region. The MODIS images are transmitted to the Forest Service, and the data becomes part of the agency's fire-monitoring toolkit, said Jacques Descloitres, manager of the Rapid Response Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Maps derived from the data show active fires each day and areas that were burned during previous days, said Keith Lannom, operations program leader at the Forest Service. "MODIS gives us a [comprehensive] view of where the fires are located and their relation to urban areas and ruraltowns," he said.

In the past, that information was scattered and came "in different formats and went to different people," Lannom said. "This is the first time we can map fires looking at a larger area."

The maps are available via the Internet to regional and national fire management teams by 6 a.m. Mountain time. The maps are also available to the public at www.nifc.gov/firemaps.html.

By October, the Forest Service will be able to produce its own fire images within a few hours of a Terra overpass, which occurs twice daily. The university researchers and NASA officials have developed all of the software for the Forest Service's Remote Sensing Application Center direct broadcast station.

The Forest Service has developed the corresponding software that creates the maps from the Terra data. In addition, University of Maryland researchers are developing advancedalgorithms that will help in the detection of active fires and the assessment of post-fire conditions, said Rob Sohlberg, principal investigator for the project at the university.

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