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NASA Creates High Tech Firefighting Tools

NASA is expanding the United States Forest Service's firefighting toolkit. New technologies provide better images faster and more often. This information allows firefighters to access wildfires more quickly and allocate precious resources. NASA hopes this new technology will help make the business of firefighting a little easier and safer.

This year, fires consumed over 2.3 million acres in the United States through August 21, 2003, the midpoint of the country's annual fire season.

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) flies over a test fire on a Southern California air strip.Image to right: Remotely-piloted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are a key element in the latest firefighting technology. Credit: NASA

Satellites Dial 9-1-1

Satellites sound the fire alarm on wildfires. New software, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena Calif., links several of NASA's Earth Science satellites together to form a virtual web of sensors with the ability to monitor the globe far better than just one satellite. An imaging instrument flying on one satellite can detect a fire or other hazard and automatically instruct a different satellite to take a closer look. If the images show that a potential hazard does exist, then the responding satellite provides data to ground controllers. They pass the data to the U.S. Forest Service, or to an interested science team.

Sensor Web DemonstrationImage to left: For the future, NASA is testing a semi-autonomous system, dubbed "sensor web," where various satellites will have an ability to communicate with each other, and provide interactive layers of images to ground users. In this way, one satellite might first detect a fire starting, and then signal another satellite to take a very detailed or specialized image of that fire for better monitoring. Click image to see demonstration of Sensor Web. Credit: NASA.

This information allows firefighters to rapidly respond to ongoing events, such as fires, floods, and mudslides. Using sensor web technology means investigators now use nearer to real-time information on what's happening. More information-JPL

Better and Faster Communications

Aqua satellite image of Rocky Mountain Fires Dozens of large fires were burning across the Rocky Mountains in Canada (top), Montana (bottom right), and Idaho (bottom center) on August 14, 2003. This image shows smoke plumes trailing from the fires, which were detected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite and are marked with red dots in the image. Click image to see larger picture Credit:NASA/ MODIS Land Rapid Response

Though yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater may be prohibited, getting the message to firefighters about forest fires is essential. NASA teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service to develop a digital wireless communication system that allows the real-time transmission of remotely sensed data from an airplane to a ground station. This quick relay of information about wildfires improves the likelihood that firefighters can handle the fire before it grows even more dangerous. More information-GSFC

Getting To The Heat Of The Fire

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) carry the imaging software that can take thermal images of fires and transmit the data and images back to ground stations. Credit: NASA

One of the latest , unmanned remote control airplanes fly over fires and broadcast thermal images to fire managers. Fire managers use these images to assess direction and speed. This new tool increases the efficiency of fire monitoring by speeding the access to information and imagery. More information-AMES

Related Links:

NASA Ames Research Center

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

USDA Forest Service Remote Sensing Applications Center

Download Active Fire Maps of Your Region

View Recent Images of Fires from MODIS