Devastating wildfires in New Mexico, fanned by high winds, are visible from space.
New satellite images from Maxar Technologies captured some of the 200,000 burning acres associated with the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires, east of Santa Fe. On Monday (May 9) the New York Times named this string of fires in New Mexico as the largest active wildfire in the United States; According to a collection of government agencies, nearly 30% of the fire was under control by May 13.
During the observations, Maxar employees wanted to capture three types of images to view different aspects of the fire: natural colours, color infrared and shortwave infrared.
Related: Astronaut watches California wildfires spew smoke from space (photos)
Infrared imaging allows satellites to map the fire’s heat signature, which can help researchers make predictions about the wildfire’s path. Shortwave infrared can “penetrate through the smoke and detect active firing lines and hot spots,” Maxar officials wrote. During a fire, hot spots are especially critical to address, if possible, to contain the spread.
“With color infrared satellite images, healthy trees and vegetation appear in red/pink tones, while burned areas appear in black/gray tones,” Maxar said of the images.
“with SWIR [shortwave infrared] satellite imagery, Maxar’s image sensor can penetrate the smoke and detect active firing lines and hot spots, which appear to glow an orange/yellow color,” the staff added. “Burnt vegetation appears in a rust/orange color in the SWIR- images. †
Global warming is causing wildfires worldwide to become more devastating and powerful. By 2021, record-breaking fires were recorded on at least continents.
One of the tools we use to monitor these forest fires is by using Earth observation satellites, both those of private companies and governments. The aim is to send information to decision-makers on the ground as quickly as possible to guide response measures and help affected populations.
Some companies are trying to parse some of the data through methods such as machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to find the most relevant information to pass on even faster.
Widespread wildfires not only harm local populations, but fire-induced greenhouse gas emissions and landscape destruction can have long-term environmental impacts.