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NASA’s data tool could revolutionize fire analysis on Amazon

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  • Amazon has already seen more forest fires this year than throughout 2019, according to satellite data made available in August 2020 by a new NASA fire analysis tool.
  • While there are several good fire monitoring satellite systems currently in operation on Amazon, NASA’s new automated system provides real-time monitoring, which can allow ground fire crews to detect fires in remote areas and take measures to extinguish fires before they spread.
  • The new system also distinguishes between fires in newly afforested areas, forest fires, pasture fires and those set by smallholders to clear fields each year. This differentiation allows the authorities to zero in on large-scale criminal arsons committed by land robbers, while also preventing the criminalization of subsistence farmers.
  • New information provided by NASA’s innovative monitoring tool can calculate carbon emissions from fires and the location and size of burned areas, all of which may require further research on global climate change, mitigation and biodiversity impacts. .
A VIIRS image of the Amazon Xingu region on September 8, including active fire detection sites. Well-developed fire fronts appear for active underfloor fires in Xingu and smoke accumulation in the western Amazon. Image from NASA WorldView site.

With more than 1,000 large fires already detected this year across the Amazon, affecting rainforests and Indigenous and traditional communities, scientists are offering a glimmer of hope for land managers looking to curb fires in the future as new satellite data technologies come online.

For the past month, a single massive fire has been burning in the Amazon underground, claiming about 24,994 hectares (61,762 hectares) of untouched forests in an area located between the Jamanxim National Forest and the Indigenous Ba Territory in Parstate, Brazil both are areas protected that they are subjected to during invasions by land grabbers who regularly use fire as a means of clearing and stealing public land.

This one fire alone will send nearly 3 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere over the coming years as burned trees die and rot, according to new data from a recently launched NASA Amazon fire tool. This is equivalent in emissions of 700,000 vehicles driven for one year.

But here’s the silver lining: until recently last year, scientists could not have known all this. Amazon fires in the past have usually been followed by counting hotspots, which do not account for the number or size of current fires, the exact area affected, carbon emissions or the type of fire. While some systems combine hotspot data with aerosol data and other information, no one can provide all of this information automatically in real time until now.

NASA Advancement

New Amazon panel fire monitoring tool, initiated on 19 August by NASA, boasts of some major advances in how fire monitoring has been done in the past. The platform uses automated data collection and computer analysis to identify the number of significant fires burning on Amazon (instead of hotspots), what type of fires are burning and how many new fires are starting each day. Carbon emissions are also calculated.

As valuable as active fire information is to track monthly or annual differences, it is an incomplete picture of what is happening, said Douglas Morton, head of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Biospheric Science Laboratory in charge of the vehicle. new.

Our team wanted to be able to provide more context regarding the types of fires burning, and the size and growth of these fires over time. These are critical attributes in terms of the ability to suppress those fires in remote locations. The new system differentiates fires that burn in deforested areas (usually set up illegally to turn forests into agricultural land), those that burn in rainforests, pasture fires, and fires set by survival farmers each year to clear existing areas.

Underground forest fires, one of the most destructive types of fires in the Amazon have gone almost completely undetected in previous years, as satellites were unable to see them. With flames often less than a meter high, fires on forest floors penetrate dense foliage, burning a path through the forest floor, often completely hidden by tree tops that rise 40 to 50 feet high.

Now, using more sensitive infrared data from night overpasses by Suomi NPP and NOAA-20 satellites, NASA can now detect these devastating fires in real time.

The Brazilian state of Par on 8 September 2020 with the discovery of VIIRS active fire sites showing both well-developed fire fronts for active forest fires as well as smoke accumulation in the western Amazon. Image from NASA WorldView site.
NASA as a new tool for analyzing fire data can help inform operational teams where and when to fight forest fires. Image by Srgio Vale / Amaznia Real.

NASA data, quickly and definitively accessible, can help land managers identify and suppress forest fires in remote locations before they become too large, while also helping to identify perpetrators of wildfires in large scale. Firefighting used on small-scale family farms and in traditional communities allows enforcement operations to focus exclusively on combating large-scale deforestation criminal networks and preventing and combating forest fires in high-risk areas. .

Its innovator. A revolution in our field. We can stop these forest fires and react quickly, said Erika Berenguer, an Amazon biologist and expert at Oxford University. We can [now] separate fires coming from deforestation and agriculture from forest fires, which are much more difficult to detect. Indeed, we do not know how much fire escapes [from newly deforested areas or fields] in the woods, but is a considerable part.

NASA as a new fire detection tool comes at a critical time. Finding solutions has never been more urgent, as the Amazon forest moves toward a projected point of rain-in-savannah forest that is subject to drought caused by climate change, rampant deforestation, and record-breaking annual fires that occur below Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a leader in agribusiness and industrial mining interests in the Amazon region.

Mongabay has also created its own fire panel based on MAAP data, which is regularly updated for use in our stories:

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