The devastating fires in New Mexico fueled by strong winds are visible from space.
New satellite images from Maxar Technologies have captured part of the burning 200,000 acres associated with the fires at Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak, east of Santa Fe. On Monday (May 9), the New York Times listed this series of New Mexico wildfires as the largest active fire in the United States; according to a collection of state agencies, on May 13 the fire was nearly 30% contained.
Upon entering the observations, Maxar staff wanted to acquire three types of images to visualize different aspects of the fire: natural color, color infrared, and short-wave infrared.
Related: Astronaut observes fires in California emitting smoke from space (photo)
Infrared imaging allows satellites to track the heat of the fire, which can help investigators make predictions about the fire’s path. Short-wave infrared can “penetrate through smoke and detect active lines of fire and hot spots,” Maxar officials wrote. During a fire, hot spots are particularly crucial to address if possible to contain the spread.
“With color infrared satellite images, healthy trees and greenery appear in red / pink tones while burnt areas appear in black / gray tones,” Maxar said of the images.
“With SWIR [shortwave infrared] satellite imagery, Maxar’s image sensor can penetrate through smoke and detect active lines of fire and hot spots, which appear to glow in an orange / yellow color, “added the staff.” Burnt vegetation appears in a rusty color / orange in SWIR images. “
Fires are becoming more devastating and powerful around the world due to global warming. In 2021, record fires were recorded on at least the continents.
One of the tools we use to monitor these fires is the use of Earth observation satellites, including both those operated by private companies and governments. The goal is to convey information as quickly as possible to decision makers on the ground to guide response measures and assist affected populations.
Some companies attempt to analyze some data through methods such as machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to find the most relevant information to convey even faster.
Widespread fires are not only harmful to local populations, but the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fires and the devastation of the landscape can have long-term consequences for the environment.