Latest News and Updates

October 20, 2020
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David E. Borges, physical scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center for NASA's Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program, recently joined hosts Alastair Graham and Andrew Cutts for "The Scene From Above Podcast." In the Season 8, Episode 4, recorded on Oct. 14, 2020, Borges underscores the critical role that Earth observations play in supporting disaster response, recovery and risk reduction worldwide. He outlines the vital role of organizations such as the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Working Group and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Working Group on Disasters (WGDisasters). Borges notes how such groups share common goals to expand the societal benefits of Earth observations by making data more accessible and information easier to integrate into decision-making processes. Hear the Podcast at: or  


October 19, 2020
Comparison of KOMPSAT-2 and KOMPSAT-3A water extent maps with Landsat-8 water extent maps, using the normalized water difference index (NDWI). Credit: KOMPSAT-2 © KARI (2007), KOMPSAT-3A © KARI (2019), Landsat-8 image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Surve
Youn-Soo Kim, principal researcher at the Satellite Application Division of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), recently completed a year-long sabbatical visit at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in which he collaborated closely with the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program. Kim is a member of the Satellite Application Division of the National Satellite Operation & Application Center at KARI. There, he helps manage satellite data generated by the KOMPSAT and Geo-KOMPSAT satellites and helps develop state-of-the-art technologies for widespread use of KARI satellite data. KARI is currently operating four low-Earth-orbit satellites called Arirang-2, -3, -3A and -5 (also known as KOMPSAT-2, -3, -3A and -5) and two geostationary satellites called Cheollian-1 and -2 (also called Geo-KOMPSAT-1 and -2). The Center is responsible for developing change detection and target indication algorithms and generating and distributing value-added products using KOMPSAT data. Upon returning to KARI, Kim aims to improve satellite data distribution and utilization of systems and to promote increased satellite data use in the public and private sectors.


October 16, 2020
This natural-color image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite shows a pyrocumulonimbus cloud forming from the the Creek Fire on September 5th, 2020. Credit: NASA Worldview.
The Creek Fire in Sierra National Forest has become one of the largest fires in California history, and has destroyed 286,519 acres in Fresno and Madera Counties as of September 24 according to media reports. Researchers working with the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program to study the air quality impacts of the fires used multiple Earth observing instruments to track the transport of smoke into the atmosphere from the Creek Fire. These observations show the smoke plume from these fires reaching all the way into the stratosphere – a relatively rare phenomena that was last seen in the devastating Australian fires in early 2020.  This natural-color image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite shows a pyrocumulonimbus cloud forming from the the Creek Fire on September 5, 2020. Credit: NASA Worldview.  The Creek Fire started on September 4 around 6:21pm local time, while California was experiencing particularly hot and dry weather conditions. That weekend, California was in the midst of a historic heat wave, with temperatures in Los Angeles reaching nearly 121 degrees Fahrenheit - some of the highest temperatures ever recorded there. Extreme heat on the ground and mid-level atmospheric instability provided the conditions to create one of the largest pyrocumulonimbus clouds (fire-induced storm clouds, abbreviated as PyroCb) ever observed in the U.S. 


October 13, 2020
On September 3, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this true-color image of smoke and fire near the border of Bolivia and Brazil. Numerous hot-spots, shown in red, mark areas where the thermal band
The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was started in 1989 after a call by the United Nations General Assembly for a day to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. Held every October 13, the day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face. NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program works to facilitate disaster risk reduction by promoting access to Earth observations and by increasing the use and utility of data that inform choice, support decisions, and guide actions that prevent disasters, reduce risk and strengthen resilience The Disasters Program acts as an enabler by investing in applied research and engaging with partners and stakeholders to pilot and demonstrate operational uses of Earth observations. The program takes a multi-hazard and systems approach that can increase situational awareness to protect lifelines. In particular, NASA leverages a comprehensive fleet of satellites, airborne instruments and ground systems, along with subject matter experts, to assess disaster impacts on society.  NASA also provides free and open data, mapping products and decision tools. Success is measured by improving resilience to hazards, vulnerability and exposure, while strengthening coping capacity.


October 5, 2020
 Photo of Ricardo Quiroga. Credit: Orozco C.
 Photo of Ricardo Quiroga. Credit: Orozco C. Born and raised in Colombia, Ricardo Quiroga's inspiration are the country's forests which are filled with some of the most unique biodiversity in the world. Quiroga spent much of his youth roaming through the forests and admiring the various species of birds that live among the treetops. Because of his upbringing, he knew he wanted a career working with the natural world from a very young age. “The passion for ecosystems and biodiversity brought me into the world of science.” Quiroga went on to co-found of AmeriGEO in 2014. Coordinated with the worldwide Group on Earth Observations (GEO) in Colombia, it works in North, South and Central America on GEO Initiatives and programs in disasters, agriculture, health, water, biodiversity and ecosystems, and the use of Earth observations for decision-making in general. Quiroga came to the organization having graduated from the School of Veterinary and Animal Science in Colombia, and then receiving his Master's degree in Ecosystems and Sustainable Development in Costa Rica. Post-graduation, Quiroga worked for a system of national parks in Colombia which sought to protect the Amazon rainforests at the border area of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, and to conserve the territories of indigenous tribes that have no contact with outside civilization. 


September 24, 2020
The map on the left shows the location and amount of fires detected by MODIS in California in July and August 2020, while the map on the right shows the location and severity of drier-than-average soil moisture conditions. These data show that more fires
Researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center used data from the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite to track the correlation between soil moisture conditions and wildfire susceptibility in the 2020 California wildfire season. The top chart shows the number of fires detected in Northern California from September 2019 through August 2020, while bottom chart shows how the soil moisture deviates from average conditions over the same time period (also known as soil moisture anomalies). These data show that dry soil conditions in July 2020 may have led to more fires occurring in August. Credit: NASA GSFC Hydrological Sciences Lab, John Bolten, Nazmus Sazib California experienced an unprecedented number of fires in August 2020, which is corroborated by satellite-based fire detections from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. Researchers compared the amount, location, and timing of the MODIS fire detections, with SMAP root-zone soil moisture anomalies (the amount that current soil moisture conditions, at the depth of plant roots, deviate from the historical average), and found a strong correlation between the timing and location of low soil moisture conditions and an increase in fires. In general terms, this indicates that fires are more likely to occur in drought-affected areas and during dry seasons.


September 21, 2020
Map showing likely damaged areas in Angeles National Forest on September 7th, 8th, 13th, and 14th
As fires continue to rage in California and across the western U.S., NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program is aiding local agencies by using satellite and airborne instruments to help track the burned areas and map damage to infrastructure and the environment.  Map showing likely damaged areas in Angeles National Forest on September 7th, 8th, 13th, and 14th. Credits: Sentinel-1 data were accessed through the Copernicus Open Access Hub and the NASA mirror managed by Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF). The image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA and analyzed by the NASA-JPL/Caltech ARIA team. This research was carried out at JPL funded by NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program. The Bobcat Fire in Southern California started September 6th, and as of September 21st has burned over 100,000 acres according to media reports, making it one of the largest fires in Los Angeles County’s history.  Using satellite data collected before and during the fires, the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, created several Damage Proxy Maps (DPM’s) of the Bobcat fire showing regions likely burned or damaged.


September 18, 2020
The August Complex fire formed under very hot and dry conditions in northern California on August 17th, 2020. Reportedly, 37 individual fires initiated by lightning strikes merged to create this conflagration, which claimed the life of one firefighter on August 31st, 2020 according to the U.S. Forest Service. Researchers from the MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, along with colleagues from JPL and the NASA Langley Research Center used data from multiple Earth observing satellites to map the properties and dispersion of smoke plumes from the August Complex fires on August 31st. The true-color image below was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite at about 12:15pm local time on that day. Fire hot-spots, identified at 4 microns wavelength, are highlighted as red dots and superposed on the image. By September 2nd the fire had consumed over 240,000 acres and was about 20% contained. Credits: MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project / R.A. Kahn, K.J. Noyes, J. Limbacher (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), A. Nastan (JPL-Caltech), J. Tackett, J-P. Vernier (NASA Langley Research Center) The Multi-Angle Imaging Spectro-radiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite obtains less coverage than MODIS. However, MISR stereo imagery makes it possible to map injection heights and associated wind vectors for wildfire smoke and volcanic eruption plumes. With these data researchers can also retrieve smoke particle properties, track their evolution downwind, and distinguish them from meteorological clouds.


September 16, 2020
Damage Proxy Map of the LNU Lightning Complex fires showing likely damaged areas in red and yellow.
As record-setting fires continue to ravage the western United States, with large fire complexes currently burning in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado, coordinators and scientists from the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program are hard at work developing maps, imagery and analysis to aid local agencies and response teams in understanding the impacts from the fires and the potential risks to people, infrastructure, and the environment. In late August the Disasters Program activated coordination efforts in response to the fires in California, and since then has been working closely with local stakeholders including the California National Guard, the California Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the California State Geographic Information Officer, the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). As fires began to burn in Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado the Program started working with stakeholders in those regions, including the Washington State Emergency Management Division, the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The Disasters Program is also reaching out to emergency management agencies in Oregon, and has recently began discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Support is being provided directly to these users through emails and virtual meetings, and through data products digitally distributed on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal. View fullscreen on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal


September 16, 2020
NASA's C-20A research aircraft takes off with the UAVSAR instrument attached below during an earlier flight from Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale, California. Credits: NASA
Video of NASA Armstrong & JPL Take Flight to Study California's Wildfire Burn Areas While the agency's satellites image the wildfires from space, scientists are flying over burn areas, using smoke-penetrating technology to better understand the damage. A NASA aircraft equipped with a powerful radar took to the skies this month, beginning a science campaign to learn more about several wildfires that have scorched vast areas of California. The flights are being used to identify structures damaged in the fires while also mapping burn areas that may be at future risk of landslides and debris flows. They're part of the ongoing effort by NASA's Applied Sciences Disaster Program in the Earth Sciences Division, which utilizes NASA airborne and satellite instruments to generate maps and other data products that partner agencies on the ground can utilize to track fire hotspots, map the extent of the burn areas, and even measure the height of smoke plumes that have drifted over California and neighboring states. Equipped with the Uninhabited Air Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument, the C-20A jet began flights from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center near Palmdale, California, on Sept. 3. This first flight surveyed the LNU Lightning Complex burn area northeast of San Francisco. A Sept. 9 flight focused on fires south of Monterey in Central California.