July 3 2014

JPSS Satellite Data May Provide Valuable Information for Active Wildfire Detection

slide fire
The Slide Fire, reported just before 4 pm May 20, 2014, burned in Oak Creek Canyon just north of Slide Rock State Park in Arizona. Pre-evacuation warnings were given to residents and highway 89A from Sedona to Fort Tuthill in Flagstaff was closed along with power being shut off from Slide Rock north through Oak Creek Canyon— attesting to the seriousness of the fire. This image was taken by the Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS instrument on May 21, 2014. (CREDIT: NOAA Visualization Lab)
More than 4,500 acres of land burned in a recent active wildfire in the beautiful, heavily-wooded area of Oak Creek Canyon, just north of the Slide Rock State Park in Arizona.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite (a JPSS mission) captured images of the Slide Fire. Fire observations from VIIRS have the potential to provide valuable information for decision making, such as applying fire suppressants.

In late April, JPSS and GOES-R colleagues and scientists participated in the second joint JPSS and GOES-R Science Seminar to discuss how JPSS satellite data played a role in active fire detection during last year’s wildfires. Discussions included lessons learned in the 2013 wildfire season that could be incorporated to better support the federal, state and local wildfire suppression activities.

Ivan Csiszar, JPSS active fire product development team lead from NOAA/NESDIS Center for Satellite Applications and Research presented findings to the audience, along with two colleagues from University of Maryland, College Park and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Satellite observations can provide valuable information on the location and intensity of fire events, particularly in remote areas and during periods of the day when ground-based and airborne observations are scarce or not available at all,” Csiszar said. “This information can also support smoke and air quality analysis and forecasts, as well as the prediction of future fire behavior.”

The hosts also described how the VIIRS instrument, as well as the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) Imager, provided additional information, like fire location and intensity, to incident meteorologists (IMETs) from NOAA’s National Weather Service.

IMETs provide critical situational intelligence to inform incident decisions on the ground during wildfires, like the 2013 California Rim Fire. In only four days, the Rim Fire grew to more than 100,000 acres in response to a heat wave, record-breaking drought, and past fire suppression.

slide fire
This May 15, 2014 image, captured by the VIIRS instrument on the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite, shows numerous large wildfires burning across sections of northern Baja and southern California, producing plumes of moderate to dense smoke that combine with blowing dust/sand moving west off the coast and well into the Pacific Ocean. (CREDIT: NOAA Visualization Lab)
“This year we have lessons learned and we can adjust our approach to improve the use of VIIRS and GOES observations and also get ready for good quality and high-frequency data from next generation geostationary instruments,” Csiszar said.

The analysis and findings from the 2013 fires will be valuable as the 2014 fire season gets underway. Recent fires in San Diego County, California and the Baja Peninsula prove that the drought conditions in the region make it vulnerable to fire.

“We will be working further to ensure quick and easy access to the satellite information to help decision making in situations when time is critical,” Csiszar said. “With a better understanding of the on-the-ground operations, we will work on developing a one-stop, customized interface to all applicable satellite products, such as Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), VIIRS and GOES, and continue the interaction with the end users via on-site visits and training and outreach activities.”

Click here to watch JPSS active fire product development team lead Ivan Csiszar discuss the role of satellites in active fire detection.