Wildland fire research and applications spans across multiple NASA programs, and fire itself, is an integral natural process that acts to maintain ecosystem biodiversity and structure. Wildland fire, which includes any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation or natural fuels, is an essential process that connects terrestrial systems to the atmosphere and climate. However, the effects of fire can be disastrous, both immediately (e.g., poor air quality, loss of life and property) and through post-fire impacts (floods, debris flows/landslides, poor water quality).
NASA Earth observations and models are used to support pre-, active- and post-fire research, as well as the applicable use of these data and products in support of management decisions and strategies, policy planning and in setting rules and regulations. A few examples are provided below that highlight NASA capabilities and our ability to engage partners and provide information to stakeholder communities.
Active Fire Assessment
Working with NASA research and applied communities, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS), an enhanced active fire detection (Thermal Anomaly) algorithm and product was developed and is in use operationally. These new data are derived using data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. These enhanced data products provide higher spatial resolution and are publically available worldwide: https://lance.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/
The USFS and NASA work closely to ensure data are quickly available for regional planning, fire identification and model initialization. Summarized satellite and fire data that are applicable to fire management communities are available through the USFS website: http://www.fs.fed.us/eng/rsac/
Through the NASA Applied Science Program Wildland Fires, Principle Investigators and their teams have rapidly responded to numerous national and international fire events to provide information critical to disaster mitigation. For example, the Fort Mc Murray fire burned in Alberta, Canada from 1 May to 5 July 2016 and consumed 607,028 hectares (6,070 km^2). The fire forced more than 80,000 people from their homes, and it is the costliest disaster in Canadian history (estimated $3.58 billion).
Tracing smoke: Implications for air quality, health and climate
NASA data are capable of viewing a slice of smoke through the atmosphere and tracking these smoke-laden emissions around the Earth. With this type of lidar data, we are able to accurately estimate the height of smoke; this is significant because smoke travels faster at higher altitudes. With this information, we are able to provide accurate air quality warnings.