NASA can now track smoke emanating from California’s Wildfire from Space

California has been facing wildfires for a while now. The worst part is that the wildfires keep getting bigger and more complicated due to merges of different fires. A good example is the August Complex Fire, which started on August 17 as 37 separate fires after lightning strikes at various spots of northern California. The worst part is that it is still blazing more than a month later, and the only difference is that it is fiercer than it was before.

As a result of the various fires, there is a lot of smoke escaping into the atmosphere. Consequently, air pollution is becoming an issue not only in California but also in other nearby places. Therefore, a need to know the route of the smoke and its impact on the air has arisen. That hasn’t been easy to do from the ground. Fortunately, Earth-observing satellites have come in handy.

Some of the satellites include Terra and CALIPSO, owned by NASA, as well as the Suomi NPP co-owned by both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). They work collectively and use their various instruments; they can track smoke, which helps predict different places’ air quality.

According to Ralph Kahn, the Earth-observing satellites work better than human beings. For instance, they are in a position to cover a broad area compared to people. Equally important, unlike human beings, they are not exposed to risks associated with the wildfires as well as the smoke. Kahn works at the Greenbelt, Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA at the Earth Sciences Division as a senior research scientist. He also studies aerosols.

Terra satellite uses a Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR). Its nine cameras point to the Earth at different angles to offer a great view and coverage. With the help of the imagery, it becomes easy for scientists to identify the extent and height of a particular smoke plume downwind. In return, they are well equipped to determine the distance the smoke is likely to cover.

It also helps researchers to analyze the characteristics of a particular wildfire. They base that on how bright the smoke particles are, their size as well as the amount. Equally important, it is able to detect the blazing parts despite the thick cloud of smoke. That’s yet another reason why the Earth-observing satellites are better than human beings. The fact that they can see through dense smoke is absolutely beyond any man’s ability.

The likes of CALIPSO can even differentiate smoke and cloud. In addition to that, researchers can clearly see how the pair is reacting. Are smoke particles heating the atmosphere leading to evaporation of clouds? Is it that the clouds are not only ingesting but also modifying the particles to form less-dangerous things? Those are answers than researchers can get with the help of the Earth-observing satellites.