Monday, December 8, 2008

Fire detections, sent by e-mail

Did you know that you can receive automatic e-mails when a satellite detects a fire in a geographic area that you have identified? Diane Davies and her Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) team at the University of Maryland have developed a system that does just that.

Using the Terra and Aqua satellites that view each location on the Earth twice a day, heat detections of fires that are at least 100 square meters in size are processed by the MODIS Rapid Response System. Each active fire location represents the center of a 1 km pixel that is flagged by the algorithm as containg a fire within that pixel.

FIRMS uses the term "near real time" for these alerts, but the satellites only see each area twice a day and it takes a few hours to process the data and distribute the e-mails. So obviously, this is not practical for initial attack, except possibly in very remote areas where lookout towers or humans with cell phones do not exist. But if you are curious about fires in a particular area, this can be a useful service.

To sign up, start on this web page where you enter your e-mail address, then click on "create a new subscription". You will have the option of being notified daily, weekly, or "rapid, near real-time". With the first two options you will receive an email that contains the lat/long and a map showing the location of the detected heat. The "rapid, near real-time" e-mails will not contain a map--just the lat/long, so you'll have to cut and paste the lat/long into an application such as Google Earth or Google Maps.

Then you will need to choose your "area of interest". You will have two options:
  1. "Choose an area interactively with map". First, click the "Protected Areas" box above the map so that parks, forests, etc. are shown. Zoom in on the map until only the area in which you are interested is shown. The easiest way to zoom in is to click on the "zoom" button (not the "+" or "-" buttons) then click on the map and drag to draw a square. Or,
  2. "Choose a country or a protected area". Choosing a country is easy, of course, but then you will need to drill down and "Choose a Protected Area"--not as easy as it sounds, since the names of the "Protected Areas" are in a strange shorthand. It appears that the "areas" include national parks and forests, but the words "national park" and "forest" are left out. For example, if you are interested in the Cleveland National Forest, you could click on "Cleveland", but you may get either the National Forest, or Cleveland, Ohio, for all I know.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory.

To find out more about the "Global Fire E-mail Alerts" you can listen to an 8-minute recording by Diane Davies about the system.

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