USFS scientist explains use of remote sensing in fire suppression decision-making


Last updated 8/28/2008 at Noon

SPIE, the international optical science society, added a “Remote Sensing for Fire: Science and Application” session for its 2008 annual meeting, and the portion on fire detection, burned areas, and emission during SPIE’s August 10-14 conference at the San Diego Convention Center included a presentation by Brad Quayle of the US Forest Service’s Remote Sensing Application Center on the use of satellite data to aid wildland fire decision-making.

Quayle’s August 10 presentation was titled “Hypertemporal satellite-based data products for wildland fire decision support” and focused on the use of satellites to detect wildland fire activity.

The objective of the Remote Sensing Application Center, which is based in Salt Lake City, is to use the most recent data for decision support. The foremost objective is to detect and monitor wildland fire activity. “We do it for all Federal, state, and private lands,” Quayle said.

The most recent data provides the greatest utility. “We strive to do it in real time,” Quayle said.

Another objective of the Remote Sensing Application Center is to generate “value-added” mapping and visualization products which provide information on locations, fire intensity, the extent of the burned area, and smoke conditions.

The first two objectives are incorporated into the third objective, which is to prioritize the allocation of fire suppression assets and the deployment of tactical airborne reconnaissance assets.

The MODIS (moderate imaging spectroradiometer) fire mapping program was developed in 2001 and covers the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada.

The USFS also uses GOES (geostationary operational environmental satellites) and AVHRR (advanced very high resolution radiometer) satellite data in addition to information from the polar-orbiting MODIS satellite system.

MODIS and AVHRR provide 1 kilometer resolution images while GOES provides 4 kilometer resolution.

Although clouds or other obstacles may cause false positives, in average conditions MODIS can detect a flaming fire of 100 square meters or larger with approximately 50 percent probability, and in ideal conditions MODIS can detect a flaming fire of at least 50 square meters with nearly 100 percent probability.

Direct broadcast and direct readout data is sent to the Salt Lake City office as well as to a ground station network encompassing Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the Space Science Engineering Center in Wisconsin, and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Approximately 40,000 fire maps are produced annually, and Quayle’s presentation included a map of San Diego County on October 22, 2007.

The US Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Decision Support System utilizes the information in its fire spread probability (FS-Pro) model. Aircraft within a flight certificate of authorization area utilize the satellite information to approach targets of opportunity.

The Wildfire Research and Application Partnership involves a collaboration between the US Forest Service and NASA’s Ames laboratory in Iowa to develop new sensors and platforms.

NASA’s VIRS (visible and infrared scanner) program will be incorporated when a polar-orbiting satellite which can provide images at 750 km resolution is launched (the estimated launch date is June 2010).

Although many fires in Southern California are reported by telephone rather than by satellite data, approximately 15 percent of fires in the Yukon Territory in 2004 were identified from MODIS data.

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