Fascinating animation of satellite imagery

What do you find MOST interesting about this video?

Above: screen grab from the NASA video. This image is from August 31, 2017.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has put together an incredible animation that make it possible to track smoke, dust from Africa, and sea salt. “Sea salt?” you’re thinking? Yes, winds over the oceans pick up salt which becomes visible to sensors on the satellites making it possible to visualize wind patterns, including hurricanes, over the vast expanses of the oceans.

This visualization uses data from NASA satellites, combined with mathematical models in a computer simulation allow scientists to study the physical processes in our atmosphere.

I watched this five times seeing something different with each viewing. So what are you going to watch? Wildfire smoke in Canada? Smoke in Portugal? Smoke in the western U.S.? Smoke in the Southeast? Or dust coming from Africa? Or the wind patterns and hurricanes in the Atlantic? Or the smoke that begins on October 9 northeast of San Francisco generated from the destruction of thousands of homes? Or smoke from fires in Italy?

If you look VERY carefully, you will be able to see a little smoke from something very rare — a wildfire in Greenland, near the coast on the southwest side of the island intermittently between August 2 and 15. (More info about the fire in Greenland.)

I suggest clicking on the full-screen button at the lower right after you start the video. If you’re having trouble viewing it, you can also see it on YouTube.

New GOES-16 satellite offers better detection of wildfires

The GOES-16 satellite that was launched in November is still being tested and is not fully operational, but some of its new capabilities are being explored. It has new sensors, some of which have a much better resolution and are better at detecting smoke. And it can rescan an area as often as every 30 seconds compared to 15 to 30 minute intervals on the older GOES-13 satellite. This makes it possible to produce much better animations of wildfire activity and smoke plumes.

Below is the description provided by NOAA for the video above, which has the imagery from the new GOES-16 on the left, compared to the older GOES-13 on the right.

This comparison of GOES-16 ABI and GOES-13 imager shortwave infrared (3.9 µm) data shows a number of grass fires burning near Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida on February 20, 2017. In the left panel, GOES-16 imagery at 30-second intervals is shown, while the right panel displays GOES-13 imagery at routine 15-30 minute intervals. The warmest shortwave infrared brightness temperatures are enhanced with yellow to red colors (with red being the hottest). Note the many advantages of the 30-second GOES-16 imagery: (1) new fire starts are detected sooner in time; (2) the fire behavior (intensification vs dissipation) can be better monitored; (3) the intensity of the fires is more accurately depicted with the 2-km resolution GOES-16 data vs the 8-km resolution GOES-13 data; (4) numerous brief fires are not detected at all in the 15-30 minute interval GOES-13 imagery (especially south and southeast of Lake Okeechobee, during the 2100-2115 UTC time period).

Bill Line of the NWS has posted a fascinating animated gif on his website that shows wildfires and smoke in Oklahoma today, Saturday.

Below is a screengrab from Mr. Line’s gif. The yellow areas represent heat.

GOES-16 fire smoke wildfire

An excerpt from his description:

The 0.47 um band will have higher reflectance in the presence of atmospheric aerosols (such as smoke) when compared to the legacy 0.64 um visible band. Combining these two bands into one display gives a forecaster a very helpful, quick view of wildfire activity across the region. The 2.25 um band can also be utilized to detect fire hotspots (especially very hot fires), particularly at night when the hotspot contrasts nicely with the surrounding darkness.

NASA to launch 200 satellites that will detect wildfires

CubeSat. NASA photo.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to launch a network of 200 small satellites that will detect wildfires within 15 minutes after a blaze grows to be at least 35 to 50 feet across. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a concept for a network of space-based sensors called FireSat in collaboration with Quadra Pi R2E. Within three minutes of detecting a fire from orbit, FireSat would notify emergency responders in the area of the fire.

Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL, and his team first presented the concept of FireSat in 2011 to the joint NASA/U.S. Forest Service Tactical Fire Remote Sensing Advisory Committee. They spent the subsequent years refining their understanding of fire monitoring needs and technological requirements.

“Such a system has only now become feasible at a reasonable cost, enabled by advances in commercial microelectronics that NASA, JPL and universities have tested in space via CubeSat experiments, and by software technology originally developed to give Mars rovers and Earth orbiters more autonomy in their science observations,” Staehle said.

This sounds like science fiction, but launches should begin in 2017 with a fully operational system of FireSat sensors in space by June of 2018.

CubeSats are 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches and weigh about 3 pounds. They are generally built from off the shelf components at a cost of thousands rather than millions of dollars.