19. December 2017

Fire­BIRD mon­i­tors for­est fires in Cal­i­for­nia

For­est fires in Cal­i­for­nia: in­frared im­ages of the US Pa­cif­ic coast
Image 1/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Forest fires in California: infrared images of the US Pacific coast

Over the course of sev­er­al days, the TET-1 (Tech­nol­o­gy Ex­per­i­ment Car­ri­er) satel­lite op­er­at­ed by DLR ob­served the de­vel­op­ment of a large seat of fire near the town of Ven­tu­ra, north of Los An­ge­les. The largest con­tigu­ous area of fire that emit­ted a ra­di­a­tion en­er­gy of 18 megawatts was record­ed on 10 De­cem­ber. From the im­age tak­en on 15 De­cem­ber sci­en­tists were able to cal­cu­late a ra­di­a­tion en­er­gy of 11 megawatts for in­di­vid­u­al ar­eas. To­geth­er with the BIROS satel­lite, TET-1 is part of DLR’s Fire­BIRD mis­sion, which de­tects high-tem­per­a­ture events, such as for­est fires, from space.
The ZKI overview map
Image 2/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

The ZKI overview map

The Cen­ter for Satel­lite-Based Cri­sis In­for­ma­tion (ZKI) cre­at­ed an overview map of for­est fires in Cal­i­for­nia.
FireBIRD for early detection of forest fires
Fire­BIRD for ear­ly de­tec­tion of for­est fires
Image 3/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

FireBIRD for early detection of forest fires

The small satel­lite BIROS (Bis­pec­tral In­fraRed Op­ti­cal Sys­tem) and TET-1 (Tech­nol­o­gy Ex­per­i­ment Car­ri­er) form a high­ly ef­fi­cient pair for the ear­ly de­tec­tion of for­est fires in the Fire­BIRD (Fire Bis­pec­tral In­fraRed De­tec­tor) mis­sion. Their in­no­va­tive in­frared sen­sor sys­tem al­lows the satel­lites to pre­cise­ly mea­sure the spa­tial ex­pan­sion and heat de­vel­op­ment of fires.

  • The TET-1 satellite has been recording the seat of a fire on the US Pacific coast for several days
  • The precise sensor systems of FireBIRD's satellite mission allow the spread and radiation energy of the fire to be measured with accuracy
  • Focus: earth observation, remote fire sensing, climate protection

Emergency services in the US state of California are still fighting fierce forest fires. Severe drought and strong winds have allowed the fires to spread. The FireBIRD (Fire Bispectral InfraRed Detector) mission run by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) consists of a pair of satellites – TET-1 (Technology Experiment Carrier) and BIROS (Bispectral Infrared Optical System). These detect high-temperature events from space. On Sunday 10 December TET-1 registered a major seat of fire near the town of Ventura, north of Los Angeles, on the US Pacific coast. Further data was recorded over the days that followed. "FireBIRD's precise systems allow us to detect incipient changes to fires with accuracy," says Winfried Halle, FireBIRD project manager at the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems, adding, "This can help us predict the behaviour and development of major fires more effectively in future."

Energetic fires

After analysing initial imagery, DLR researchers realised that in central areas the fire burned more intensely and thus radiated more energy than was the case with the major forest fires that occurred in Chile, Por­tu­gal and British Columbia in 2016 and 2017. Scientists calculated a radiation energy of up to 18 megawatts for individual zones within the overall area affected by fires in California. The radiation energy of the aforementioned fires elsewhere in the world was only around half as high.

The data showed that over the course of the week the individual fire zones varied greatly in intensity and spatial extent. The largest contiguous area of fire was recorded on 10 December, while the largest number of individual, intensely burning fires was registered on 12 December. Over subsequent days the areas of intense fire declined. However, smaller fires increasingly flared up in other places. The recordings showed that, put together, the fires devastated a large area, hampering fire-fighting operations. "In Europe there is no other comparable satellite mission that is capable of measuring the radiation energy of fires with such precision," notes Halle.

For large fire events such as the forest fires that raged in Chile in January 2017, the DLR Center for Satellite-Based Crisis Information (Zentrum für Satellitengestützte Kriseninformation; ZKI) provides data from FireBIRD to local authorities. In crisis situations the ZKI puts the relevant satellite data together in such a way that it can be optimally used by situation centres, public authorities, relief organisations and policy makers. The ZKI created an overview map of forest fires in California using FireBIRD data.

About the FireBIRD mission

The DLR FireBIRD mission consists of two satellites, TET-1 and BIROS (Bispectral Infrared Optical System). They are both based on the small satellite BIRD (operational from 2001 to 2004), which was developed by the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems. A similar system of infrared cameras is fitted to both of these satellites. TET-1 has been orbiting Earth since 2012, searching for fires and other high-temperature events. TET-1's 'brother', the small satellite BIROS, built in Berlin Adlershof, has also been in orbit since 2016, adopting an open constellation to support TET-1 on its important mission.

The satellite data is mainly received at the DLR ground station in Neustrelitz and then processed, archived and made available worldwide for scientific purposes by the The Ger­man Re­mote Sens­ing Da­ta Cen­ter (DFD). The FireBIRD satellites are operated and controlled by the German Space Operations Center (GSOC) within DLR's Space Operations in Oberpfaffenhofen.

Unlike other current satellites, FireBIRD has the capability to detect smaller fires in particular. This enables more precise mapping, and therefore analysis of their impact on the climate. Moreover, exact registration of forest and bush fires is highly relevant due to the economic loss they entail.

Construction of the BIROS satellite was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung; BMBF).

  • Julia Heil
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-5263
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Dr Christian Fischer
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    DLR In­sti­tute of Op­ti­cal Sen­sor Sys­tems
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-9612
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln
  • Monika Gähler
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Re­mote Sens­ing Da­ta Cen­ter (DFD)
    Cen­ter for Satel­lite Based Cri­sis In­for­ma­tion (ZKI)
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-3309
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
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