Week 8: Monitoring Fires
Using NASA Satellites and GIS to Manage Forest Fires
Late Summer 1988
In a groundbreaking moment in fire management strategy, Chief Naturalist George Robinson decides to call NASA to inquire if they could possibly provide high altitude photographs of the region. As a result of this urgent call, NASA not only programmed the Landsat-4 Earth Resource Satellite to fly over and photograph the area, they also made arrangements for two additional types of aerial surveillance utilizing C-130B and ER-2 aircraft.
Today, thanks to an increase in the number of Earth-observing satellites and advances in computing technology, information about forest fires is far more detailed and able to be transmitted rapidly from satellite to manager. Satellite and aircraft surveillance have become an essential part of fire management. A major break through in the use of satellites for monitoring fires came with the 1999 launch of the MODIS instrument on board the Terra satellite. MODIS's one kilometer resolution enabled the detection of larger, more intense fires that are typically responsible for the majority of biomass damage. These high-intensity fires, like the Yellowstone fire of 1988, are so hot they can burn all the way to the soil, leaving it sterilized and making recovery very slow. As of 2003, satellites like Aqua, Terra, and Earth Observing-1 are able to work collaboratively and autonomously to track wildfires and other hazardous events with even greater accuracy and immediacy than ever before. To learn more about the research and development of remote sensing and fire management, visit the Resource links below.
- Bruce Coffland Presentation: Multispectral Scanners for Wildland Fire Assessment (Acrobat (PDF) 4.5MB Mar30 10)
- NASA Earth Observatory Feature Article: NASA Demonstrates New Technology for Monitoring Fires from Space
- NASA Earth Observatory Feature Article: Fire Alarms from Orbit
- NASA Earth Observatory Feature Article: Burn Recovery in Yellowstone
- NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day: Yellowstone Recovers from 1988 Fires