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The California Wildfires from Above

As massive wildfires continue to rage in southern California, our satellites, people in space and aircraft are keeping an eye on the blazes from above. 

This data and imagery not only gives us a better view of the activity, but also helps first responders plan their course of action. 

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A prolonged spell of dry weather primed the area for major fires. The largest of the blazes – the fast-moving Thomas fire in Ventura County – charred more than 65,000 acres.

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Powerful Santa Ana winds fanned the flames and forecasters with the LA office of the National Weather Service warned that the region is in the midst of its strongest and longest Santa Ana wind event of the year. 

These winds are hot, dry and ferocious. They can whip a small brush fire into a raging inferno in just hours.

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Our Aqua satellite captured the above natural-color image on Dec. 5. Actively burning areas are outlined in red. Each hot spot is an area where the thermal detectors on the satellite recognized temperatures higher than the background.

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On the same day, the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite captured the data for the above false-color image of the burn scar. This image uses observations of visible, shortwave infrared and near infrared light.

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From the vantage point of space, our satellites and astronauts are able to see a more comprehensive view of the activity happening on the ground. 

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The crew living and working 250 miles above Earth on the International Space Station passed over the fires on Dec. 6. The above view was taken by astronaut Randy Bresnik as the station passed over southern California.

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During an engineering flight test of our Cloud-Aerosol Multi-Angle Lidar (CAMAL) instrument, a view from our ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft shows smoke plumes. From this vantage point at roughly 65,000 feet, the Thomas Fire was seen as it burned on Dec. 5.

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Our satellites can even gather data and imagery of these wildfires at night. The above image on the right shows a nighttime view of the fires on Dec. 5. 

For comparison, the image on the left shows what this region looked like the day before. Both images were taken by the Suomi NPP satellite, which saw the fires by using a special “day-night band” to detect light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses light intensification to detect dim signals.

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Having the capability to see natural disasters, like these wildfires in southern California, provides first responders with valuable information that helps guide their action in the field.

For more wildfire updates, visit: nasa.gov/fires.

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Source: NASA

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The California Wildfires from Above

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