BOISE--With several destructive wildfires burning in the Treasure Valley right now, efforts to detect and study the impacts of such fires is more important than ever. Scientists at NASA are using advanced satellite technology to track the path of wildfires here in Idaho and around the globe.
STUDYING WILDFIRES FROM SPACE
Fires are becoming more destructive, said NASA Scientist Michelle Thaller. She told us via satellite interview that using space technology is giving experts a unique view of this destructive threat.
This season we've seen areas with some pretty intense activity, she said.
That includes right here in Idaho. Thaller said NASA uses 14 satellites that observe the earth from outer space. Through the technology, scientists can spot and track the movement of wildfires.
HOW IT WORKS
Thaller said the technology is valuable because it can see record data that can be shared within minutes after a fire starts.
We can actually see smoke from orbit, said Thaller.
The satellites allow NASA to monitor all aspects of a fire, from how smoke affects the atmosphere, to how it affects weather patterns.
Thaller said satellite imaging is also an important tool for crews on the ground.
In some cases we can actually tell firefighters within about 30 minutes after a fire starts where it is, she added.
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Thaller said the satellites can help track environmental trends so NASA can better predict where wildfires could cause problems years from now.
This map shows a simulation goes out to [the year] 2100 looking at areas that we think are going to become more prone to wildfires the red areas show you places that have an increased risk compared to today, she said.
She says data shows the world is getting warmer, providing more dry fuel for wildfires.
We're going to have to get better at managing fires, at managing the landscape, said Thaller.
So far, this year more than 2.6 million acres have been burned due to wildfires in the United States. Thaller said that's about average for this time of year. However, fire season is expected to last through September.