According to National Geographic, over 100,000 wildfires occur in the U.S. each year. These wildfires burn an average of 4-5 million acres annually and 80% of these fires are caused by humans. Forest fires can result in massive loss of life and billions of dollars of damage, and NASA is taking steps to minimize these threats through the FireSat program.
Take a look at how NASA plans to fight wildfires using satellites.
Wildfire Detection Today
NASA has long been studying wildfires using satellites. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) currently collects wildfire data via satellite and uses the information to study wildfire patterns. They can compare what a region affected by wildfires looked like before, during, and after a fire breaks out. They also use their network of satellites to track how long it takes a region to recover from a fire. Not only that, but scientists can also track air pollution levels while the fire burns. All of this data allows JPL to assist in wildfire management and prevention.
The Future of Wildfire Detection
The FireSat program takes NASA’s firefighting efforts to a whole new level. At present, NASA’s fire-searching satellite sensors can detect wildfires twice a day. FireSat drastically improves response time and helps to complement existing fire-detection tools already available.
FireSat is a combined effort between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the San Francisco startup Quadra Pi R2E. Their network of satellites is designed to detect wildfires fast so emergency firefighting crews can respond quickly. This global network will use 200 satellites that will run non-stop. They will feature infrared sensors and will be able to detect wildfires about 15 minutes after they start. Fires as small as 35 to 50 feet wide will be detected, and as few as three minutes after detection the network will alert response crews in the region.
Although current satellites transmit large images when they detect a fire, FireSat satellites would deliver their low-resolution images much faster. Not only could FireSat satellites transmit images of the fire each minute, but they would be able to show the latitude and longitude of the wildfire to promote faster communication about the fire’s state.
FireSat hasn’t always been a feasible solution in wildland firefighting. Software from the Mars Rover and Earth orbiters have made the FireSat program possible by allowing more autonomy in space. The FireSat program was first presented back in 2011. Scientists will be testing the system in 2017, and it is projected to be completed by June 2018.
Benefits of the FireSat Program
While most wildfires are reported through 911 calls, the delay in action and response times means fires can easily get out of hand, making them more difficult to control and put out. The FireSat program will decrease detection and response rates. The sooner firefighters know about a wildfire, the sooner they can extinguish it and reduce the damage it can cause.
In terms of immediate benefits, that means less destruction of personal property and natural areas, and a reduced risk of human injury. Quick response times also ensure fewer greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which are released into the atmosphere as a result of wildfires.
In terms of cost, that means the federal and state governments can save money that would otherwise be spent on the manpower and the materials to fight the fires, as well as on restoration efforts. Businesses that would stand to lose a lot of money from wildfire damage, such as those in the tourism industry, would also benefit from the faster detection and response rate. This makes the FireSat program a huge asset to the economy.
And FireSat isn’t just for wildfires. The satellite network will also have the potential to locate other high heat events like oil spills and explosions, which could also threaten to cause serious damage and injury.
While there are already multiple systems in place to detect and fight wildfires, NASA’s new approach with their FireSat program is set to improve wildfire detection for a faster response, a reduction in damages and costs, and greater safety.
Contributed By: Shannan Mills was hired as an administrative assistant in 2002 and quickly moved into a new role as marketing coordinator. Throughout the years, she learned that the wildland firefighting market and customers were her true passion and in September 2013 was promoted to division manager for National Fire Fighter Wildland Corp. In her role as division manager, Mills focuses on helping the company best serve the wildland firefighters who protect our lands and homes and growing the wildland firefighting market.