2013-10-22. Time is ripe for fire detection satellite, say Berkeley scientists.

posted Oct 24, 2013, 3:31 PM by Alan Gould
For GSS ABCs of Digital Earth Watch Software chapter 7. Excerpt: BERKELEY - As firefighters emerge from another record wildfire season in the Western United States, University of California, Berkeley, scientists say it’s time to give them a 21st century tool: a fire-spotting satellite. [Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO) satellite] ...Such a satellite could view the Western states almost continuously, snapping pictures of the ground every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited wildfires. Firefighting resources could then be directed to these spots in hopes of preventing the fires from growing out of control and threatening lives and property. ...fire expert Scott Stephens, ... physicist Carl Pennypacker, remote sensing expert Maggi Kelly and their colleagues describe the satellite in an article published online Oct. 17 by the journal Remote Sensing. “With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire,” said Pennypacker, a research associate at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, referring to the devastating 1991 fire that destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Berkeley and Oakland. “It could pay for itself in one firefighting season.” With global warming, Stephens said, wildfires are expected to become more frequent and more extensive. ...Fire detection today is much like it was 200 years ago, Stephens said, relying primarily on spotters in fire towers or on the ground and on reports from members of the public.... augmented by aerial reconnaissance and lightning detectors that steer firefighters to ground strikes, which are one of the most common wildfire sparks. ...“Even today, most fires are detected, in some way or another, by people,” he said. ...The approach is similar to what Pennypacker and colleague Saul Perlmutter used 20 years ago to search for exploding stars to study the expansion of the universe. In that case, they created an automated system to compare consecutive images of the night sky to look for new points of light that could be supernovas. “...this is a simple system: a telephoto camera, an infrared filter and a recording device. We are just looking for something bright compared to the surroundings or changing over time,” Kelly said. but the team hopes to get funding to test the system on a fire that is starting, such as a prescribed burn. “...The point is, satellites like Landsat and GOES provide great information after a fire starts; they can focus and monitor a fire by looking at smoke plumes, fire spread, hot spots at the edges, etc.,” Kelly said. “FUEGO is designed for early detection of smaller fires. Right now, we lose a lot of time because fires are already big by the time we see them.”....  http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/10/22/time-is-ripe-for-fire-detection-satellite/. Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News Center.